- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

If justice is blind, tell me how a man can have a 40-year-long record of violating the laws that govern commercial fishing and recreational hunting but only recently receive a measly one-year commercial license suspension when he was nabbed with yet another batch of illegal striped bass. Never mind that he also fell for a federal sting operation in which he volunteered to hunt waterfowl after the season had closed with illegal bait and ammunition yet.
It happened to a scofflaw named Arnold Ray Evans, of Saxis, on the lower eastern side of Virginia's portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Even then, after the many violations he had committed over the years, one commercial fishing regulator in Virginia, Laura Belle Gordy, voted to give this fellow probation. Right on. As if he were a contrite first-time offender who instantly would mend his ways.
Such outrageous behavior by governing bodies and even state courts has done little to instill respect for the law among those who ignore it, as well as those who obey it out of a sense of duty, honesty and common decency. Not only that, it must be extremely frustrating for the various game law officers to see their investigative work treated as little more than a joke.
All this was the subject of conversation a few days ago when a group of us congregated on the shores of a Maryland river hoping to catch a few yellow perch that might grace a frying pan. Underscore the word "few." In Maryland, a licensed sport angler is permitted to keep only five yellow perch that must measure at least nine inches each. To do it legally, the sport fisherman must pinch down the inner barb on a hook to keep from injuring a perch that might be released. It is a good rule, a worthwhile regulation, until you learn that no such laws apply to commercial netters or your sportfishing cousins, friends or neighbors across the Potomac in Virginia a state that for some reason has never seen fit to look at the plight of the yellow perch schools that continue to shrink in size every year.
Wonder why? Wonder if it has something to do with people who string out their nets, hauling in thousands of the fish, never having to worry about a 5-perch daily limit, or bent-down barbs, or anything else?
The same applies to such saltwater species as flounder, sea trout and red and black drum, all of which demand strict limits of recreational anglers while commercial netters get by with murder under a little-understood hole in the fishing laws known as by-catch. By-catch or by-kill (it's the same) simply refers to the likelihood of a waterman targeting certain species of fish, catching them or even unintended species, and then promptly being allowed by the law to have a certain number of undersized specimens in the net. If they die, so what?
Try that in your sportfishing boat. Say you're allowed to keep six flounder, each of which must measure at least 16 inches long. A marine patrol approaches and checks your catch and finds you have two flounder that are shorter than the legal minimum requirement. You'll receive a hefty ticket that can put a crimp into your household budget for that week. If you've been nabbed before and shame on you if you have you'll probably face a judge and could get a few days in the pokey. The fine will be much higher, that much is guaranteed.
The same illegal flounder taken by a commercial netter, under the by-catch or by-kill rules, wouldn't even raise an eyebrow.
But what really got us worked up during our perch fishing convocation was the hitherto unknown (to some) fact that a commercial netter can legally enter a tidal stream in Maryland or Virginia and set his mesh to catch America's Public Panfish No.1, the crappie. Netters can't do that in a freshwater lake or river in either state, but if it's tidal water it somehow makes it OK to snare crappies in the mesh and resell them to a seafood merchant.
The netters and seafood operators are the same people who currently are hoping that Maryland will institute a tidal water fisheries commission that they will be allowed to manage by virtue of a commission majority. Imagine their nerve. And so many of us sit by and watch the goings on, with only a handful of sportfishing activists fighting to keep the netters at bay.
If the fox is allowed to guard the henhouse, we'd be well advised to take up bowling or golf. There won't be any fish left, but there'll be plenty of laws to govern sport anglers. Apparently, it is they who present a danger to our natural resources.
For shame.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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