Rick Jordan of Beaverton, Ore., took two friends out for a day of fishing for sturgeon in The Dalles Pool on Jan. 5. His friends in the boat, Rod and Neddie Morris of Vancouver, were looking forward to a day of fishing.
Neddie Morris quickly hooked and landed a 52-inch sturgeon, a “keeper”, so Jordan tied the still-living fish to the boat, and helped Neddie fill out her tag. As she was doing so a boat with Oregon State Police officers pulled up to talk.
According to Jordan, the officiers said that sturgeon retention had ended the night before at midnight, and that Jordan and his friends were fishing illegally. Incredulous, Jordan, who had checked the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s alerts website that morning, and saw no closure notice, quickly showed the officers the website on his phone that said the fishery was still open.
Those officers then went to another ODFW website, and after scrolling through three pages, found the notice and showed it to Jordan.
The officers released the fish, and then wrote Neddie a ticket for illegal fishing, which imposed a $440 fine.
Jordan, a life-long angler, was furious. He wondered why the fishery was not given the usual one-day notice of closure, and why was it not posted online in the Alerts page as usual?
Also, if the fish was released alive, why did the officers not issue a warning instead of an expensive ticket?
“I have all the alerts on my phone,” Jordan said. “There was no notice, and the fish was still alive. Why not write us up on a warning?”
High fishing effort and unseasonably warm river temperatures meant that anglers had burned through the quota of 135 fish in the first four days of the fishery, and had already exceeded the quota by quite a bit.
According to the ODFW’s John North, the usual protocol for closing a fishery is to give anglers a day’s grace to hear about the closure, but with catches per day as high as they were, and the fact that the catch was already over the quota, the decision was made to close the fishery at midnight that night.
North admitted that the closure was slightly mishandled.
“It wasn’t perfect,” North said. “On Sunday we received a notification from creel that it wasn’t looking good. We were already at 190 (kept sturgeon) on a quota of 135. We had a brief chat on (Jan. 4), and made the decision to close it at midnight.”
North noted that the closure news release went out at about 2:40 p.m., and was posted to the Columbia River Page on Jan. 4. However, the department failed to get the posting on the “Alerts” page.
Jordan also wondered why he saw no closure signs posted at the dock. After receiving the ticket, they returned to the dock and checked again, but found no notices posted.
However, Laura Hieronymus of the Washingon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that her crews did in fact post bright pink signs at the launches on the river the afternoon of Jan. 4.
“We did post them,” Hieronymus said. “All I can say that maybe someone tore them down, but we did post signs at all launches and popular bank fishing spots, and they were printed on bright pink paper.”
She said anglers have torn signs down in the past.
“I don’t know that it happened there, but that is what I suspect,” she said.
Jordan was also angry that the officers did not issue a warning, given the fact that the fish was released alive.
In an email, Tm Schwartz, a lieutenant with the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division of the East Region Command, said the officers had little discretion where the ticket was concerned.
“Troopers have little control over the citation amount as it is specifically listed in Oregon Revised Statute (ORS 496.992),” he wrote. “In the case of a sturgeon being taken in violation of the wildlife laws, the presumptive fine would be at the Class A/violation level (which is set at $440 by statute).”
The episode left a bad taste in the mouth of Jordan and Rod and Neddie Morris. They note that six other boats were ticketed that morning, which showed that they were not the only anglers taken off-guard by the closure.
The facts that they could see no signs posted, the short notice of closure, the lack of a warning ticket, and the expensive nature of the fine, all seem to them as unreasonably harsh for an honest mistake.
This incident may serve as a warning to all the newcomers to fishing. When seasoned anglers can be caught in the maze of fisheries rules, closures and online postings, those that are new to the sport need to realize that missing a rule or posting can end up being a very expensive mistake.
Always check the regulations before you fish any water.