State agency reels in overzealous officer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fishing enthusiasts who are accustomed to pulling scores and even hundreds of white perch from the Blackwater River during this time of the year were caught off guard last weekend when an officer of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries began writing summonses to those whose catch exceeded 20 fish per person.

Then it was realized that such a limit does not exist for perch-fishing in the Blackwater.

The officer, whom VDGIF officials would not identify, apparently misunderstood a confusing summary of the fishing limits set across the state.

As a result, &uot;we had a mix-up with one of our young officers who had misinterpreted the law,&uot; said Julia Dixon, spokesperson for the VDGIF.

The VDGIF on Monday was making plans with the state’s Commonwealth Attorney’s office to stop prosecution of those cases.

Five summonses were issued over the weekend for boaters who exceeded the presumed limit, Dixon said Monday.

The charges would have been prosecuted as Class 2 misdemeanors that carry penalties of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000 — or both — as well as restitution for the cost of replacing the excess number of fish caught.

Calls began coming in to the VDGIF offices early Monday morning, Dixon said, asking about the limit. The officer was contacted by his superiors and the error was discovered. By 8:45 a.m., VDGIF officials had begun contacting local prosecutors to &uot;begin the process of reversing those summonses,&uot; Dixon said.

The officer is in the process of writing letters of apology to those boaters, some of whom nevertheless were forced to dump the fish they caught back into the river.

According to Dixon, the summary of statewide length limits and catch limits lists a statewide limit of 20 &uot;other native or naturalized nongame fish&uot; per person per day. However, another section of the summary is a list of exceptions that is difficult to comprehend, Dixon said.

&uot;We learned a lesson from this,&uot; she said. &uot;We’re going to take a good look at the wording and regulations to make sure it’s very clear for constituents and our staff.&uot;

Later, she said: &uot;We’re doing everything we can to make it right for those five folks that were involved.&uot;

Summaries of fishing limits are available on the VDGIF Web site at