Sharing your catch of fish with friends and neighbors is a Maine tradition. You share your fish with people at your campground, in the camp next to yours, and back home. My Dad always looks forward to the few brook trout I bring home from camp just for him.
This has not been a problem, until the legislature enacted a solution.
The current law that requires anglers to purchase a license to fish also prohibits anyone from possessing wild fish without a fishing license. So technically, the folks who received your gift fish were in violation of this statute.
As far as I’ve been able to determine, no one has ever been summonsed for this violation. There probably isn’t a single angler in the state who even knows this is a violation.
Nevertheless, after a Maine legislator discovered this, a legislative solution just had to be forthcoming.
LD 302, An Act to Allow an Angler to Gift a Freshwater Fish to a Person Who Is Not Licensed to Fish, should have been quickly dismissed as a solution in search of a problem. Alas, despite a negative vote from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, the full legislature enacted the bill.
The new law reads as follows.
Section 1, 12 MRSA, 12613. Possessing Gift Fish.
- Prohibition. A person who does not possess a valid fishing license issued under chapter 913 of this chapter may not possess a fish or any part of a fish given to that person except a person may possess in that person’s domicile a gift fish that was lawfully caught and is plainly labeled with the name of the person who gave the fish and the year, month and day the fish was caught by that person. This section does not apply to baitfish.
- Penalty. The following penalties apply to violations of this section. A. A person who violates this section commits a civil violation for which a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $500 may be adjudged. B. A person who violates this section after having been adjudicated as having committed 3 or more civil violations under this Part within the previous 5-year period commits a Class E crime.
In addition to being an unnecessary burden on the neighborly tradition of sharing a catch of fish, and a typical state bureaucratic nightmare, this bill creates three new problems.
First, domicile means home, so it will no longer be possible to give fish to someone who is camping, at camp, or in transit. The non-angler can only possess fish in his or her home.
Let’s say a nonfishing friend is with you at camp, and when he or she heads home, you want to give him or her a couple of trout. Violation! Your friend is prohibited by law from possessing those fish outside of his or her home.
And once they take possession of properly labeled fish in their homes, they better not try to sneak them out to a church supper in a casserole.
Second, there is no technological marvel that will allow an angler to label his or her fish with the required information. Can’t really carve it into the skin of the fish. And every gift fish must be labeled. I guess every angler will have to carry a bunch of tags, like we use for deer and turkeys, to affix to every fish we catch and share.
Third, will game wardens be expected, now that legislators have recognized this “problem” and enacted their “fix,” to start sniffing around a backyard barbecue, checking for fishing licenses or properly labeled fish?
Governor Paul LePage allowed this bill to become law without his signature. He should have vetoed it.
If they felt compelled to act, legislators could have simply made the common practice of sharing fish legal, without the labeling requirement and over-the-top fines.
Instead, they fished in the wrong pond.
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