endorses harsher penalties for fish, game limit violators
ST. PAUL --- A Senate
committee on natural resources has endorsed a bill
that creates stiffer penalties for state fish and
game law violators.
The bill, sponsored by
Sen. Jane Krentz, DFL-May Township, gives Department
of Natural Resources conservation officers the authority
to seize the hunting and fishing licenses of those
who take far beyond their legal limits.
The so-called gross overlimits
bill, if it clears the full Legislature and is signed
by the governor, would fill a void that allowed some
major poachers to keep their fishing and hunting licenses
as long as they paid their fines.
Under the bill, poachers
could lose their licenses for up to five years --
and have their boat and gear confiscated -- as soon
as the value of illegal fish hits $500 under the state's
With walleyes valued
at $30, that means poachers would lose their license
if they had 24 fish, or 18 fish over the usual legal
The amount varies by
species. The change also would apply to small game
and waterfowl. Deer, for example, are valued at $500,
so shooting one illegal deer would lead to license
The bill is a scaled-down
version of legislation that failed in the House last
session. Some lawmakers were concerned the punishments
were too harsh, said Rep. Bill Haas, R-Champlin, who
sponsored last year's bill.
Lawmakers were particularly
concerned about penalties against minnow dealers or
commercial fishing operations. They also worried that
one-time violators would be punished too severely
and opposed lifetime license forfeitures.
Last year's bill called
for criminal penalties and lifetime license suspensions.
It also allowed DNR officials to seize vehicles, boats
and trailers used in poaching. The new version does
not allow seizure of cars or trucks.
"I think we've worked
out their concerns and should be in good shape,''
Haas said Wednesday. A similar version of the bill
is expected to advance in the House.
The bill also allows
for a gross misdemeanor penalty when the value of
illegally taken fish and game exceeds $1,000. It also
allows for joint liability when two or more people
The gross overlimits
legislation was pushed in part because of the efforts
of recently retired DNR conservation officer Tom Chapin
of Grand Rapids. Stories on Chapin's work catching
poachers in the Lake Winnibigoshish area with dozens
of fish over their legal limits, and with the poachers
still allowed to keep their fishing license, inspired
lawmakers to push for the change.
"It will give our officers
a tool that they haven't had before, but it doesn't
provide any additional criminal penalties,'' said
Maj. Chuck Schwartz, the information and education
manager with the DNR's Enforcement Division.
The ability to revoke
and suspend hunting and fishing licenses is a strong
deterrent to fish and game violators, he said.
"It's a privilege a lot
of people take pretty seriously,'' Schwartz said.
Under the proposed law,
DNR officers could revoke licenses when a suspect
is charged with a gross limit violation, and the court
would make suspensions if the person is found guilty.
Those who lose their
hunting or fishing privileges here would also be barred
from those activities in several other states that
share reciprocity agreements with Minnesota, Schwartz