NANFA-- idiotic fish laws

Christopher Scharpf (
Thu, 03 Aug 2000 11:13:32 -0400

for Ty and others who might like a little more background or perspective on fish
collecting laws:

This is from my meeting summary of the 1999 NANFA Convention in Illinois:

You Can Stab a Bowfin, But You Can't Seine It

The final talk of the day elicited the most vociferous response from the
audience. Glenn Kruse, Endangered and Threatened Species Program Manager for the
Illinois Department of Natural Resources, spoke on his state's fishing
regulations. As it turns out, recreational fish collectors in Illinois are
limited to what they can take and how they can take it. What's frustrating is
that many of the rules do not make any sense. Here's a quick review:

* A sport fishing license allows you to take by hand or hook-and-line any
non-protected species. ("By hand" means just that - your bare hand.)

* Cyprinids (except for carp and goldfish) may be taken by seine or trap. (Mr.
Kruse doesn't know why carp and goldfish are excluded, although they may be
taken by hook-and-line. The best guess is that carp and goldfish were considered
sport and/or commercial fishes, while other cyprinids are bait fishes.)

* Dipnets are allowed for taking carp, buffalo, carpsuckers, smelt, and shad.

* Carp, buffalo, suckers, gar, and bowfin may be taken by pitchfork, underwater
spear gun, and bow and arrow. (Everybody laughed at the pitchfork, but it makes
sense; in olden times that was probably an easy way for a farmer to snag a meal
in shallow water.)

[I've since found out that farmers pitchforked fish when rivers flooded onto
ther farms.]

* You must possess an aquaculture permit to propagate any wild-caught Illinois
fishes. (So if your legally seined bluntnose minnows spawn in the aquarium on
their own, then you are technically breaking the law! Mr. Kruse believes this
law was written for catfish farmers, but the way it's worded makes it apply to
all Illinois fishes.)

What becomes clear from a literal (and legally accurate) interpretation of these
rules is that it's illegal to possess such aquarium favorites as darters. And
it's illegal to possess other fishes, such as gar and bowfin, if they are
collected by nets. Or, as Carolyn Nixon noted, "You can hurt it, but you can't
take it without injury."

Why are these laws The answer, as Mr. Kruse explained it, is
quite simple. They were written by lawmakers who had no idea that someday people
might want to keep nongame fishes alive in home aquaria.

"Darters fell through the cracks," he said, "but no one knew the cracks were

Changing these laws is possible. The trick is finding one legislative sponsor
who is sympathetic to your cause. He or she can usually push the law through
simply because the other legislators don't care, or because lawmakers regularly
"swap" votes (I'll vote for your pet piece of legislation if you vote for
mine.") The process, unfortunately, is a slow one.

"There are two things you never want to see [being] made," Mr. Kruse said,
recalling an old maxim.

"Sausage. And laws."

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