June 18, 2005
Hood River County Deputy Prosecutor Jill Messecar recently put an avid fisherman behind bars for illegal “snagging” of salmon.
Oregon State Police (OSP) Troopers are hoping that case will deter other fishers from trawling with hooks instead of angling. They said the practice of embedding a barb anywhere in a fish becomes more prevalent during the fall when slow and dying Chinook salmon are returning to spawn.
Messecar admitted to being shocked when Tim Essex, 37, bragged in Circuit Court about thousands of snagging catches that he had made over an 18-year period. The Carson, Wash., resident readily admitted to flouting sport fishing rules that require hooks to be placed only in the mouth or gums of a catch.
The jurors who heard Essex claim to be the “best fishermen he knew” held him accountable to the law. He was sent to jail for 10 days, directed to pay $567 in fines, and put on 12 months of supervised probation. He also lost the rod and reel used for snagging and had his fishing license suspended for two years. Essex, who has three prior convictions related to fishing, is facing the same penalties in Washington State.
“This seemed like a case that we should try as a misdemeanor crime instead of a violation because of his history and his attitude that the fish were there for him to do what he wanted with,” said Messecar.
“I asked him if snagging 300-450 fish versus catching seven legally did not prove to him that his method of fishing was illegal. He said it did not. When I asked him if 1,000 snagged fish would convince him his method was wrong he said ‘no.’ He said there was no number that would convince him,” she continued.
Trooper Craig Gunderson said the Essex case highlights a continuing problem with snagging that has necessitated stricter enforcement action. The official from the OSP Fish and Wildlife Division said fishers were once only cited for the offense. Gradually the penalty increased to a seizure of their gear — and now they can also plan on spending some time behind bars.
“If everyone did this, it obviously would affect our annual runs. We’re hoping that once the word gets out about jail time that we’ll see some reduction in snagging,” Gunderson said.
Messecar said the most troubling aspect of Essex’ case was that he was teaching his 15-year-old son how to illegally hook fish. Even though Essex claimed to have released all but his allowable limit of fish, Messecar wondered how many hundreds of fish died from injuries inflicted from a misplaced barb. She is hopeful the teenager who witnessed his father’s arrest will have learned that there is a price to be paid for unsportsmanlike conduct.
According to reports, Essex was arrested at the Hood River Marina last fall after being observed snagging near the mouth of the White Salmon River. The undercover Oregon troopers watched him for more than one hour after being tipped off about his illegal fishing technique by an informant — who also told them where to find Essex in action.
Messecar said Essex threw his gear overboard when approached by police and was also cited for failure to allow an inspection of the materials — and littering the waterway.
“Hopefully, this will put him out of commission for a while, and we are working with Washington authorities to get his license suspended there as well,” said Gunderson.
Also see Sports Headlines — Snagging fish Violates 'ethics of fair chance': How fish are harmed by the unsportsmanlike practice of snagging.