August 5, 2002
Loving father or criminal of the state?
Recreational fishing in the second degree
by Jeanette Knutson
Readers may have read with astonishment Bill Foreman's letter to the editor last week entitled "Live worms lead to legal problems." For those who missed it, here is a truncated re-cap.
Last summer, Foreman, "anxious for a little quality father-son time," took his boy fishing along the banks of the Snoqualmie River.
Yes, folks. This fish story occurred last summer. It was finally resolved in court last November. But repercussions of the ordeal played in Foreman's head for a full year. He couldn't shake it.
"I lost a lot of sleep over this, a lot of time and energy. I thought I'd get closure in a couple months, but I didn't. It still grates on me. ... That's why I wrote the letter."
Foreman purchased three fishing permits and an access decal for his car prior to last summer's fishing trip. He purchased a cupful of worms at a Duvall store displaying a "Night Crawlers" sign the day of the excursion.
Father and son strolled down to the river hand-in-hand that bright sunny morn. But the six-year-old didn't get a chance to refine his casting technique before a state Department of Fish and Wildlife officer broke up the fishing party.
The officer's demeanor was brusque and condescending. Foreman, "wanting to demonstrate the utmost respect for the law in front of (his) son," acquiesced, remained polite, did as he was told.
"What's this on your pole?" asked the officer indicating a minute fraction of a worm at the end of young Foreman's Snoopy pole. "Do you know where you're fishing?"
When Foreman queried the officer as to the officer's concern, he was told to read aloud a passage from a handbook of laws for Westside rivers. Having read the rather cryptic paragraph, Foreman still did not understand the officer's concern. He was then asked to read aloud the definition of "specialized gear." Still not comprehending the officer's point, the Fish and Wildlife employee explained that "specialized gear" prohibits the use of live bait, worms, in the Snoqualmie River.
Instead of issuing Foreman a warning for fishing in the Snoqualmie River with worms, the officer issued him a criminal citation.
At first, Foreman thought the "Recreational Fishing Citation" was something like a traffic ticket, something he could pay and more or less forget about. After all, he wasn't endangering lives; he didn't have malicious intentions. He was fishing with his son in broad daylight.
But when the arraignment notification came in the mail, he thought to himself, "Geeze, this is really bad."
He later learned that the citation carried the possibility of 90 days in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, community service and a permanent criminal record.
On his third day in court, Foreman asked the judge if fishing with worms was really a criminal offense. Her reply was the Washington State Legislature has determined that fishing with live bait in the Snoqualmie River is a criminal offense.
The prosecutor recommended a $200 fine, four hours of community service, a permanent criminal record reflecting a guilty plea, court costs and a suspended 90-day jail sentence pending no further citations.
Foreman was floored that they were taking this "worm episode" so seriously. The day he and his son went fishing, Foreman saw a "Public Fishing" sign. He saw a "Night Crawlers" sign. He put the two together, bought some worms and went fishing.
It was hard for him to believe he could have a lifetime criminal record for fishing with a worm.
As it turned out, Foreman struck an 11th-hour "bail forfeiture" deal with the prosecutor. He paid a $75 or $100 fine and was free to go. The prosecutor told him he had no criminal record. The judge told him he did.
"I'm free, but I'm saddened," said Foreman.
And as the seasons changed and the weather warmed up, he saw more and more people fishing. He felt compelled to write his letter to the newspaper in hopes of preventing what happened to him from happening to someone else.
"I just know they're risking the same thing I went through," he said.
"... I didn't like the way I was treated (by the officer). He acted as if he were trying to teach me a lesson. I could understand his getting rough with me if I were speeding or something, if I were endangering the lives of others. And I didn't like the way they were taking it to the extent they were. I realize it was in the scope of the law to do what they did, but this case was about a worm. They could have been a little more lenient," said Foreman.
State Rep. Toby Nixon (45th District) read Foreman's letter in the paper last week and was incensed. He suggested to fellow legislators in a letter sent Aug. 1, "Since the DFW and the prosecutor are apparently blaming the Legislature for this outrage, I humbly suggest that the Legislature should correct it."
Nixon also said, "Needless to say, upon reading this letter I was shocked. Shocked that the State would consider fishing with worms to be such a serious offense that a loving father would get 90 days in jail for it. Shocked that a law enforcement officer would treat someone so obviously absent of any criminal intent so callously. Shocked that in a day and time when home-health nurses are being murdered on the street, kids are being abducted, raped and killed almost daily, and meth labs are overrunning our neighborhoods, a prosecutor would have so little else to do that they can focus so many resources on persecuting a father who wanted nothing more than to spend a little quality time with his son in an activity that by tradition, common sense, and inherent nature would never be considered a crime."
Nixon further wrote that it took him "more than an hour to dig these penalties out of the state's web site. How do we expect average citizens to be aware of these rules - especially when a "public fishing" site has no postings informing the public of the limitations, and nearby fishing tackle shops are selling "illegal" bait? The restrictions are listed in the "Fishing in Washington" pamphlet - but in a very cryptic fashion that would be easy to misinterpret."
It must be emphasized that it was not a City of Duvall police officer that handed Foreman his Recreational Fishing Citation.
In fact, Duvall Police Chief Glenn Merryman said, "We've gotten a phone call or two about this. The letter didn't indicate which law agency confronted (Foreman). We just wanted to make it clear that it was not us. But if anyone needs help understanding the fishing regulations, they should get ahold of us. If we don't know the answers, we'll put them in touch with someone who does. The last thing we want to do is discourage the use of our waterways.
"I'm taking my son to Yakima to fish this weekend. And you can bet I'm going to research the fishing regulations there. The burden falls on the angler," said Merryman.
About the Duvall shops that advertise and sell night crawlers, Merryman said, "We can't stop stores from selling worms. A lot of people stop at these places, get coffee and worms and head out of the area."
Readers may still be wondering what the big deal is about fishing with worms in the Snoqualmie River.
Doug Williams, public affairs spokesman for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, explained that by using worms, anglers end up unintentionally catching juvenile salmon and steelhead that haven't migrated out to the ocean yet.
"The intent of the selective-gear rule is to reduce bait-fishing mortality, which is often unintended mortality," he said.
"In the early 90s, we saw signs of a crash in our summer-run steelhead populations," said Williams. "Eliminating the bait fishing reduced the hooking mortality for non-targeted species."