I think there are certain instances in which game wardens should exercise a measure of common sense and discretion in enforcing our game and fish regulations.
For example, if someone is found in possession of a single 9½ inch crappie – a half-inch under the minimum requirement on most lakes – I’d let them slide with a warning. That’s like a traffic cop giving someone a break when they’re clocked going 66 in a 65 mph zone. It’s technically a violation, but not too serious. Let them off with a warning not to push their luck in the future.
But there was nothing minor or technical about last month’s violation by four fishermen below Cheatham Dam. They were caught in possession of 420 white bass (stripe), 360 over their combined daily limit.
At first I assumed the men had used nets to scoop up schools of fish – I couldn’t believe they could catch that many stripe on standard fishing tackle. But a TWRA spokesman said the catch was made with rods and reels and lures, one fish at a time.
Next I wondered if the fishermen, who of whom all have Laotian names, understood the regulations.
The TWRA spokesman assured me that all four spoke fluent English and knew – or should have known -- that there is a 15-fish limit on stripe. Claiming not to know the game and fish regulations is no excuse for violating them.
One of the apprehended fishermen is 78. My first inclination was to feel sympathy for him due his age.
On the other hand, would we feel sorry for a 78-year-old robber or burglar?
That’s an accurate comparison, says the TWRA, because a game-law violator is a thief.
When they kill game or catch fish illegally or in excess of bag and creel limits, they’re stealing a natural resource from hunters and fishermen who obey the rules.
Whether it is deer, turkeys or fish, rules are in place to regulate their harvest and conserve the resource.
Even as plentiful as white bass may be, there’s a limit to how many can be removed from a particular body of water without over-depleting the population, especially when many of the fish caught in the spring are spawning females with eggs.
Also, by limiting how many fish each angler can keep per day, more fishermen get an opportunity to share in the resource.
Tennessee’s white bass limit of 15 per day (and possession limit of 30) is liberal. The four Cheatham fishermen could have legally brought home 60 fish between them and had 60 more stored in their freezer. That’s plenty. Leave a few for the next trip, and for other fishermen.
Remember, you don’t have to stop fishing after you catch your limit, you just have to put the rest back.
If the four violators had been in possession of a fish or two over the limit, I’d favor cutting them some slack and let them off with a warning. But not when they have 360 over the limit. That sort of greed is inexcusable.
The four have an upcoming court date and likely face stiff penalties. The TWRA wants to set an example for other would-be poachers: major violations can carry major penalties.