All Maine Matters

April 2006



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Laws, Rules, Regulations, Requirements, And Prohibitions
By Dr. Bill Reid

Government is surely justified in handing out volumes of fishing regulations. It is the decent thing to do since fishermen have a right to know on what grounds game wardens are charging them and plenty of reason to find out how to avoid being charged. That is why, I suppose, the authorities issue fishing regulation booklets. Regardless of the merits of each individual rule and regulation, the sheer numbers of such rules and regulations makes it difficult for the state’s Izaak Waltons to avoid getting entangled in them. The more the state regulates, the further in the dark the citizen sinks in his effort to be obedient to them. This is increasingly true for all state and federal laws, rules, regulations, requirements, and prohibitions. As they grow and multiply we find it harder and harder to know and obey them.

Yet, even as the authorities multiply their rules, we run into some strange omissions. Assume for a moment that I am the mayor of your town, responsible for enforcing a recycling program.

uppose also that I send you a notice that all homeowners must set out their glass and metal waste for pick-up on Wednesdays. You further read that if you set your recyclables out too late for pick up, you must remove them from the curb by sundown on the same day. Your notice, however, makes no mention of a penalty for noncompliance. I expect you would not feel strongly motivated to comply. You might think it voluntary. A ten-dollar fine might give you a stronger motive to comply, wouldn’t it? Stronger still if the penalty were fifty dollars.

If you faced a hundred dollar fine for failure to remove, I expect you would feel a powerful urge to cart that trash
back up your drive. Threatened with a thousand dollar fine you’d remove that glass and tin at a run. The higher the penalty, the more certain the compliance. We all know this to be true.
Here’s an oddity. I hold in my hands two books, Open Water Fishing 2005 Regulations and Ice Fishing 2005/2006 Regulations, a creel load of regulations between the two of them. You can read bits of Maine Revised Statutes Annotated (MRSA), general rules, regulations applied to specific lakes and ponds, directions for this, prohibitions against that, and instructions for the other. You could spend a substantial portion of your day’s fishing trip studying one of these volumes, yet you would find some strange omissions.

There are almost no penalties described for violations. In fact, there are only three stipulated in the two volumes. There is a ten thousand dollar fine for dumping any live bait into any Maine waters. The improper disposal of litter in Maine makes you liable for a $200 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second and all subsequent offenses. There is no mention of license revocation in the ice fishing regulations, whereas we are told in the open waters volume that conviction of anglers for conviction of any violation “may result in revocation of fishing privileges” and even in the revocation of other licenses. On page 64 of Open Water Regulations, we learn that the commissioner is required to revoke licenses for a number of violations, including snagging and fishing with explosives.

We learn on page nine in the book Regulating Ice Fishing that it is illegal to put antifreeze into Maine waters, but there is no hint of what the penalty might be for this violation. We have no idea of what punishment we face if we use a worm for bait in New Sharon’s McIntire Pond, just that it is forbidden. Will you be sent to bed without supper for ice fishing in Bristol’s Hastings Pond? No telling from reading the book governing such activities. What will it cost you if you take bass from Spednic Lake in Vanceboro? Apparently you won’t find out unless you get caught trying it.

Take bass from South Portland’s Hinckley Pond in late December and all you risk is a head cold as far as you can tell from reading. You may be surprised to read that you are vi-
olating the rules if you cut the head and tail off your salmon a month before you cook it, but you need not be surprised to learn that no punishment is prescribed. Happily, you are not forbidden to freeze it.

I have no idea what our regulators hope to achieve by regulations without deterrents, but I am beginning to get the idea that they are so busy making rules that they do not give due attention to encouraging compliance.

Dr. Bill Reid, a resident of New Sharon, is a former professor of philosophy in the University of Maine system, a fisherman and a hunter, and Republican candidate for Maine House District 87 in 2006. He has run twice for the House as a Libertarian in 2000 and 2002.

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