Out-of-season fish photos taboo

Photographing fish caught out of season is now a ticketable offense under new regulations that took effect April 1. In this August 2012 file photo, Bill Sochia of Carthage displays a smallmouth bass he caught legally while fishing on the St. Lawrence River near Ogdensburg.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is cracking down on anglers who take photos of fish caught out of season and post them on social media websites.

Photographing such fish is now a ticketable offense under a regulation that took effect April 1. The regulation is listed on Page 52 of the new DEC fishing guide that people get when they buy a fishing license.

According to the fishing guide, “A person may not fish for a species (even if immediately released) during the closed season for that species on a given water. 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.”

Those who take photos of out-of-season fish can be ticketed by an environmental conservation officer, according to DEC Region 6 spokesman Stephen W. Litwhiler. The penalty can be a fine of up to $250, and/or 15 days in jail. Anglers who are found to have deliberately fished for out-of-season species face the same penalties.

People who accidentally catch out-of-season fish need to exercise caution, Mr. Litwhiler said.

“If you’re catching the fish by accident, you need to release it quickly and with as little injury to the fish as possible,” he said. “If you’re taking a photo, that’s evidence you did not unhook and release it immediately. ... The longer it takes, you’re decreasing that fish’s chance of survival.”

Mr. Litwhiler could not confirm Tuesday whether conservation officers will actively search for such photos on the Internet, or if they will only investigate photos when reports are made.

Anglers who catch bass in the St. Lawrence River or eastern Lake Ontario before the third week of June, when the regular bass fishing season starts, could be charged if they take photos with fish, Mr. Litwhiler said.

“They could be inviting the ticket,” he said.

Unlike in other areas of the state, DEC does not allow preseason catch-and-release bass fishing in Region 6, which includes the eastern basin of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

Anglers also could face charges if they photograph an out-of-season walleye, for example, or a lake sturgeon caught by accident. Fishing is banned statewide for sturgeon, a threatened fish that is present in the Black River, St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Mr. Litwhiler said anglers who intentionally fish for threatened species, such as sturgeon, could face stiffer charges.

Anglers, however, are allowed to take photos of fish during catch-and-release seasons, according to DEC regulations.

“Measuring, weighing and photographing of the fish are permitted as long as the fish is not removed from the water for an extended period or handled in a manner that could cause it harm,” the fishing guide states. “Fish may not be placed in a bucket, tub, livewell, on a string or any other holding device.”

While environmental conservation officers now have the authority to charge people who catch out-of-season fish by using online pictures as evidence, Mr. Litwhiler said, he is hopeful that most anglers will follow the new regulation.

“The vast majority of folks are law-abiding,” he said. “If they know what the regulations are, they’re going to follow them.”

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