|HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Corbett has signed into law tougher anti-poaching legislation which increases the maximum fine for illegally harvesting fish from $200 to $5,000 and extends the period the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) can revoke fishing and boating privileges from two to five years.
“This new law will have an immediate impact on our ability to deter large-scale poachers from illegally taking fish,” said PFBC Executive Director John Arway. “These are the individuals who deliberately come in after dark and take large amounts of game fish, often by using illegal methods such as netting or spearing in the streams. In the past, poaching was subject to a $200 maximum fine. Now we can hit violators with up to $5,000 in fines, as well as the cost of replacing the fish they illegally harvest.”
The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Corbett last night and took effect immediately.
“Weak laws made our waterways extremely vulnerable to poaching, with highly sought-after trophy species of fish repeatedly stolen from our waterways and sold on the black market,” said Rep. Michael Peifer (R-Greentown), who sponsored the legislation as House Bill 2293. “This is a serious problem that has a detrimental impact on our regional economy. Under this law, we finally have a punishment that fits the crime."
The law creates a new section in the Fish and Boat code for “serious unlawful take,” which increases the penalty for harvesting more than the legal daily limit of fish from a summary offense of the first degree to a misdemeanor of the second degree. It also allows the PFBC to collect from violators the costs to replace the poached fish, and it increases the amount of time a violator can be sentenced to prison from a maximum of 90 days to two years.
The law will be particularly beneficial in the Erie watershed, where the annual steelhead season is just beginning. Annually, PFBC waterways conservation officers (WCOs) apprehend and cite 5-6 individuals for large cases of poaching. These individuals typically have in their possession dozens of fish over the legal creel limit.
“We’ve had violators in the past who have simply handed the WCO cash to pay the small fine,” added PFBC Commissioner Glade Squires, who represents the agency’s southeast region and chairs the Law Enforcement Committee. “Now our WCOs have the tools to hit them hard in the pocketbook and to send them to jail for a longer time. And if a poacher has a current license, we can suspend that license for up to five years.”
The law also substantially increases the penalties for individuals who fish while their license is suspended. Previously, that violation was a summary offense of the first degree, subject to a $200 fine. The penalty is now a third degree misdemeanor, subject to a fine up to $5,000.
Also last night, Gov. Corbett signed into law House Bill 1417, another piece of legislation sought by the PFBC to better protect and equip its WCOs for the challenges they face in the field. The new law adds waterways conservation officer and deputy waterways conservation officer to the list of individuals who are protected under the aggravated assault provisions of the Pennsylvania Crimes and Offenses code. It takes effect in 60 days.