Apr 13, 2009

On Water Access, Fishing Regulations, and Unbridled State Power

Left: Cold, deep, and hard to reach

I am a person who is drawn to water, and while driving up I-75 from Perrysburg recently I had the urge to stop and gaze over the Maumee River. I yearned to watch the choppy spring waves splash against the shore, and I entertained a thought of sticking a bare foot in the water, just to say that I did.

Unfortunately, the Maumee also attracts development, as is the case for virtually any American body of water. Members of the public who do not own property on the shore are limited to those few parcels of land reserved for public use, and I must have spent 30 minutes doggedly driving through Rossford and Perrysburg to find public access.

Of course, I could have just parked my car in a subdivision near Eagle Point and walked to the river, but I did not know how strictly the "No Trespassing" and "No Public Access" signs would be enforced by the local police. Besides, I am too cheap to fork over fines for illegal parking, and the last time I got mouthy about my rights with a cop, he paid me back by ordering my car towed to the impound lot.

Lesson learned, and that is a story for another day.

I have railed before about beaches and privatization, and the same questions burrow under my skin. If waterways are public and part of the traditional commons, why is access to them so difficult to attain? Why are people so willing to settle for tiny scraps of what is rightfully theirs?

I finally found a small sliver of access in the form of a 30-yard wide boat ramp just outside of downtown Perrysburg, and I watched a half-dozen fishermen unload their boats into the river. By the way: what is it with fishermen and camouflage attire? It is not as though the fish are going to be fooled by camouflage jackets and hats.

Admittedly my fishing knowledge is quite limited, but perhaps camouflage has properties of which I am unaware.

Anyways, after satiating my desire to connect with the water, I noticed quite a few signs posted that informed fishermen of their limits on fish, the size of fish that they can keep, and whole assortment of government regulations that infringe upon a person's ability to derive nourishment from the public waterways.

Left: They are watching you

I scratch my head at the logic of laws that allow commercial fishing operations to use nets and haul in millions of pounds of fish for profit, while if an individual angler used certain types of nets to catch fish and feed a family, he would be denounced as a poacher or a thief.

The State of Ohio issues steep fines for anglers who exceed their daily limits, and I read that fines of $50 per walleye over the limit plus jail time are possible for such "thieves." How about $250 fines for illegal methods to trap steelhead in a tributary of the Chagrin River in Cuyahoga County? Of course, these "criminals" made the mistake of posting on YouTube, never a smart idea for would-be lawbreakers, but it never ceases to amaze me how the state exerts its power over time-honored human activities.

Yet people humbly acquiesce to these incessant attacks on their natural rights, while condemning as scoundrels those who dare to ignore the state's legal impositions. We are so browbeaten that most of us buy into the flawed logic that the state is really "protecting" fish populations, instead of realizing that our rights are (pardon the pun) being sold up the river with the license and limit schemes enforced by jackbooted DNR police.

(Full disclosure: on the rare occasions when historymike fishes, he purchases a license and observes the limits. He might have philosophical disagreements with the principles behind these laws, but he prefers reduced freedoms outside of prison to a life behind bars after taking on the state in a pissing contest)

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