Last session, in between passing a law requiring transvaginal sonograms prior to abortion and slashing $4 billion in public education funding, legislators found time to push through a bill that criminalizes cheating in saltwater fishing tournaments. (Such a law was already on the books regulating freshwater tournaments.)
And now, Texas game wardens say they have “caught” the first people violating new law, and they are pushing the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office to prosecute them.
For those who have yet to commit Section 66.023 of the state Parks and Wildlife Code to memory, here’s what it basically says: it criminalizes “misrepresenting” a fish’s origin in a fishing tournament (i.e. bringing in a fish not caught “in the course of the tournament” and trying to pass it off as a tournament catch.) It also prohibits altering the “length or weight of a fish” in a tournament (How do you do that? Why, by cutting the tails or stuffing them with heavy things, such as ice.) Breaking this law is a Class A misdemeanor but is elevated to third-degree felony status if more than $10,000 in prizes is on the line.
Scott Henson, the Austin-based blogger behind criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, has found “great amusement ribbing legislators for their passage of various seafood related crimes.” (He has previously reported that Texas has eleven oyster-related felonies on the books.) A post Wednesday, Henson noted that seven women have now been charged with a felony for misrepresenting the size of their catch.
The alleged fish fraud occurred during the the Ladies Kingfish tournament off South Padre Island on August 11, when, wardens say, seven women on team “Nice Tails” tried to sneak in some “fishy” sea bass into the competition, Lynn Brezosky reported in the San Antonio Express-News.
That “red discoloration on their bellies, anal fins and tails” led a game warden inspecting the catch to “believe that the fish were not caught during the tournament, but rather caught days prior and held in a device to keep them alive for the tournament,” according to an affidavit.
When the law was passed, Henson penned this takedown:
You know what the punishment should be for cheating or lying about the length of a fish in a tournament if you get caught? Disqualification. Ban them from future tournaments. If the tournament is affiliated with others, ban them from those. Why can’t the private sector take care of this on its own? … Government has no business being involved in prosecuting fishermen for exaggerating their catch. I’m certain you could have prosecuted half the boys in my senior class for lying about the biggest fish they ever caught. I don’t condone doing it in a tournament, but I can’t fathom why it’s the government’s job punish hyperbolic anglers for misrepresenting a fish when the private sector has ample remedies available to them. …
You’d never know the Lege is broke because they seem to think more incarceration can solve any and every social problem: Even dishonest, exaggerating fishermen.