There are ridiculous rules that are made for emotional reasons. There are ridiculous rules made for political reasons. Then, there are ridiculous rules made for the sake of ridiculousness itself.

Earlier this week, a Washington Times story broke announcing that the Boy Scouts of America is now prohibiting water gun fights. The scouts may only use water guns to shoot at targets – not each other. Squirting a fellow scout with a water gun was determined to be unkind.

Water balloons are permitted. However, the balloons must be biodegradable and no bigger than a ping-pong ball. Nothing says fun to a 10 year old scout more loudly than getting soaked by a tablespoon of water in biodegradable balloon.

Ridiculousness, Albany Style

Just a few days earlier, a post focused the light on another bit of ridiculousness. It was there in plain sight, but I'm sure few of us even noticed.  Many fishermen in NYS may have already broken this regulation since it went into effect April 1 of 2015.

Located on Page 52 of the New York State Freshwater Fishing Guide, under General Regulations, there is this statement:

Fish caught during the closed season must be unhooked and released immediately. They may not be handled for any other purpose, including taking a photo.

Then, under a heading labeled “Endangered and Threatened Fish”, there is this statement:

Any unintentionally caught threatened or endangered fish species must be unhooked and released immediately. They may not be handled for any purpose other than removing the hook and placing them back into the water. For example, posing for a picture is not permitted.

Upon reading this, my blood pressure shot up. Once again, New York State's approach to solving stupid, reckless, and unlawful behavior on the part of a few is to punish everyone. Violating this rule could cost an angler $250 in fines.

“All men are equal before fish.” - Herbert Hoover

As I've covered fishing for, I have dropped in on several tournaments as well as the random fisherman. They represent all walks of life – blue collar, white collar, and no collar. Some of them take fishing very seriously and some just see it as an excuse to hang out with friends and drink a cold beer or three. Fishing unites them all.

The men and women who fish in New York State have been kind and generous to me – a complete stranger many times. I've been offered food off their grill, given a cold beer, and invited to stand by listening to tall tales of the one that got away. I can confidently say that there is something about fishing that brings out the best in people.

Time and time again the vast majority of the men and women who fish in New York State, regardless of their career, income, or political point of view, conduct themselves in a lawful manner. They make every effort to abide by the State's many regulations and demonstrate stewardship over the habitat and the fish they pursue. They do not deliberately target out-of-season or endangered fish and they handle every fish caught in a manner that will deliver the least harm or stress, unless the fishing is legal and is being kept.

When one of these fishermen catches a big out-of-season or rare fish, they do not suddenly change. They do not suddenly become animal abusers, law breakers, or poachers.

Training Anyone?

Search Google and you'll see dozens of pictures of White and Lake Sturgeon in the arms of DEC employees and Cornell researchers.  It never occurred to me that these pictures documented harm and excessive stress to the fish. Yet, this is what this new regulation assumes. Will these pictures no longer be permitted? Or will some people, such as Cornell researchers, be given a pass on the new regulation?

If they can pose for a picture, why can't we? Seriously, what's the difference?

Some would argue that the DEC and Cornell representatives seen in these pictures are trained to handle the fish. Well Ok DEC, train us.  Mandate a “fish handling” certification. It can be an online course, like the crossbow certification many of us carry. Or, use state and private outlets, such as, to remind fishermen of the importance of proper fish handling.

700,000 Field Researchers

I'm convinced this new rule has very little to do with the health of fish or the enforcement of established regulations. It is a rule based in ignorance of our rapidly changing, tech-savvy culture. Out-of-season and endangered fish have always been caught. It is the nature of fishing. You can target one fish and catch another. Today, the average fisherman has the means to snap a quick picture before returning the fish to the water. The DEC should embrace the fact that pictures will be taken and that these engaged anglers could be gathering data on behalf of the DEC.

Consider for a moment if the DEC didn't see pictures of fish as possible documentation of a crime. Consider for a moment if they saw the fishing public, largely equipped with wildly powerful handheld computers (which the state did not have to fund), as partners in their mission.

There are over 900,000 resident and over 200,000 non-resident anglers in New York State*. Together, they spend 14.9 million days on the water*.  It's likely, according to Pew Research Center, that 64% of these anglers possess a smartphone. That's more than 700,000 anglers who may already be gathering data.

Now, all they need is some training (and a smartphone app). Instead of hiding their accidental catches from a possible fine, they would be encouraged to document every catch. They could gather more data than the DEC could handle in a way that is meaningful to the bean counters and wildlife managers at the DEC.

That is, unless the DEC's goal is to simply levy more fines.

Twisted Logic Missing the Mark

I'm sure, out there are a handful of fishermen who target out-of-season or endangered fish. Punish these people. But cruising social media for fine opportunities, while alienating the entire New York State fishing public, may be a poor way for the DEC to perform its enforcement job.

If a man catches a fish and he doesn't snap a picture, did he actually catch the fish? By the DEC's own logic, I would have to say, "No".

Put simply, this rule is a lazy, quick-fix regulation, for a largely non-existent problem. It's another example that ridiculous rules are in no way endangered, especially in New York State.



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