What to Know About Emergency Fishing Restrictions and Other Recent Changes to the Washington State Fishing Laws

By Lance Fryrear

This summer has been a warm one in western Washington. As you are getting out and enjoying some record temperatures, you need to be aware of recent updates to the fishing laws and emergency changes to the Sportfishing Pamphlet as a result of drought conditions and other factors in the area. There have been some emergency rule changes affecting shellfish, saltwater fishing, and freshwater fishing. You can find the changes on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website. It is important to be fully aware of all of the fishing rules and regulations before going out on any fishing trip because if you fail to follow the rules you could end up facing criminal charges for rule violations.

If you take or possess two times or more than the fish or shellfish allowed by any rule you could be charged with the gross misdemeanor offense of unlawful recreational fishing in the first degree under RCW 77.15.370. This is one of the most common ways that a person is charged with unlawful recreational fishing 1st degree, but, you can also be charged if you are accused of some more specific activities including snagging, fishing in a fishway, or possessing wild salmon or steelhead during a closed season. In addition to potential jail time and court costs, there is also a per fish wildlife penalty assessment for certain types of fish.

There is also a lesser simple misdemeanor criminal offense of unlawful recreational fishing in the second degree under RCW 77.15.380. You could be charged with this if you fish without purchasing the appropriate license and catch record card, even if you did not actually catch any fish or shellfish. You can also be charged with unlawful recreational fishing 2nd degree if you take or possess fish or shellfish and you do not have your license or catch record card in your possession or you are in violation of a department rule addressing the manner or method of fishing.

Another common criminal fishing (and hunting) charge involves wildlife checks. Under RCW 77.15.470, you can be charged with the gross misdemeanor crime of avoiding a wildlife check station or field inspection if you fail to obey check station rules or if you fail to produce any hunting or fishing equipment, seaweed, fish, shellfish, wildlife, or licenses, permits, tags, stamps, or catch record cards after being requested to do so by a fish and wildlife officer. This offense is a common add-on charge that we see in many cases.

Finally, the recreational guiding rules were changed by the Legislature effective July 24, 2015. These changes affect sections of RCW 77.15 and RCW 77.65. As part of these changes, the Legislature has authorized denial of or suspension of game fish guide, food fish guide, or charter boat licenses if convicted of certain offenses (RCW 77.15.510). The Legislature also created a new gross misdemeanor offense under RCW 77.15 of unlawfully engaging in fishing guide activity if a person holds a game fish guide license, a food fish guide license, or a charter boat license and fails to perform any required duty under 77.32.430 or violates any rule regarding the sale, possession, issuance, or reporting of temporary fishing licenses, temporary short-term charter stamps, or catch record cards.

As you can see, there have been a lot of recent changes to fish and wildlife rules. If you believe you might be charged with violating any fish or wildlife rule it is important to contact an experienced Washington State Fish and Wildlife Defense Attorney for a free case evaluation right away. Contact our office today for your free consultation.

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