Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

December 8, 2012

Md. can suspend hunt-fish privilege

Maryland’s Wildlife & Heritage Service and the Fisheries Service, parts of the Department of Natural Resources, each have the administrative authority to suspend or revoke the licenses they issue for hunting and fishing.

The power to revoke or suspend licenses must come through legislation passed by the General Assembly and approved by the governor.

Fisheries received the authority a few years ago and wildlife obtained it more recently.

In the most recent round of fishing license suspensions, six of the violations took place in Allegany County.

I spent some time working through the Maryland Judiciary Case Search online and here is what I found.

None of the six individuals had previous natural resources law violations, at least not in Allegany County.

One of the six had no previous district court record of any kind in the county.

Another one of the suspensions was applied to a frequent court flier, but those transgressions had nothing to do with fish and game.

Each of the anglers was charged with the same violation, that being fishing in a put-and-take trout stream during a closed period.

Two of the people didn’t even have fishing licenses. I suppose it is difficult to suspend a fishing license that doesn’t exist, though I guess that could be worded to tell the person he couldn’t buy a fishing license for a certain period of time.

Actually it is the privilege that is suspended, not the license.

As you know from reading my columns over the years, I am in favor of adhering to fish and wildlife regulations, though I question the policy of applying suspensions to first-time offenders.  

All of these people had already paid fines of $227.50 and court costs of $22.50.

My suggestion would be to let first-timers — unless it was a horrible violation such as having 137 trout over limit — keep their licenses, but move on with the knowledge that if they were bad again they would lose the fishing privilege for an ample amount of time, or maybe even get to eat county food for a while.

I’m thinking that this authority should be applied to those who have so many run-ins with the law that they have come to know the favorite colors and football teams of the natural resources police officers and district court judges. I’m talking about  the people who are the serial offenders of coot and carp regulations.

Tom O’Connell, the head fish guy for the DNR, said that once a person pays a fine or is convicted of certain violations, the suspension notification is automatic. Those folks have an appeals process available in front of an administrative law judge. Of course they have already had the option of explaining themselves in court as well.

“Our authority is not limited to serial violators but those who committed violations that were knowingly and egregious,” O’Connell wrote in an email. “Even if it was someone’s first offense, if they committed an egregious violation knowingly then I believe a suspension is warranted, and this was recommended by sports fishermen who served on our penalty workgroup. If the individual was not aware of the rules (honest mistake), and has a clean record, then I would encourage them to use the appeal process and make that explanation. We have had some in this situation and I believe we have reached a good outcome with those folks.”

Other fishing violations that will bring a suspension notification to your mailbox include:

• Possessing smallmouth bass during closed season.

• Exceeding trout creel limit in a put-and-take fishery.

• Possessing trout in a catch-and-return area or in a zero-creel-limit area or in a delayed-harvest area at the wrong time.

• Possessing too many or wrong sized yellow perch.

NRP Sgt. Art Windemuth told the Times-News a year ago that the enforcement agency has nothing to do with suspensions or revocations.

“It’s similar to Maryland State Police enforcing highway laws and the Department of Motor Vehicles establishing which violations put points on a driver’s license,” he said.

The wildlife agency has had suspension/revocation authority for a few months and is in the process of determining policy, according to Director Paul Peditto.

Peditto said there will be first-time violations that trigger suspensions. He anticipates that illegal baiting of deer, turkey, bear and waterfowl will fall into that category.

“Also, human safety violations such as negligent hunting,” Peditto said. A public announcement of those decisions will be made and public comment solicited. “And I can almost guarantee you that any violation dealing with endangered species will qualify.

“We will be active with the process by next hunting season,” Peditto said, explaining that violators from this season could be suspended for the 2013-2014 season.

“We have the advantage of studying the process fisheries is using. That is helpful,” Peditto said. “We are going through this very deliberately to make sure we get it right.”

Peditto said, too, that taking and passing a hunter education course is a very serious requirement that may become a trigger for suspension or revocation.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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