Poaching and Beach Access Legislation Need Your Voices
This week, poaching & beach access are in the house as two major pieces of legislation are pending in our RI statehouse. They deal with two hot topics for sportsmen and women and people who just want to enjoy their constitutionally protected rights.
This bill is a direct result of landowners attempting to stop people from “trespassing on ‘their’ beach.” We have insufficient column space to list the recent occurrences of shore side landowners flexing their lawyers muscles to keep people from exercising their RI Constitutionally guaranteed right from Article 1, Section 17 “to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges to the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter and usages of this state, including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore.” It’s difficult now to determine high tide lines, especially given that “hoax” of global warming and rising sea levels so new property owners can stake out gaudy, obnoxious KEEP OUT signs to prevent the common person from doing precisely what they want to do with their new money second home.
If you need a point of reference for these expensive, tiresome legal battles waged against invisible armies of ambling fishermen and those audacious walkers with the unmitigated nerve to collect sea shells down by the seas shore while someone simply tries to enjoy a little privacy on their private ocean, let’s go back to Westerly, circa 2017. “Taking off my legal briefs for a moment, what kind of persons go to such expensive and embarrassing extremes to prevent people from walking a beach? What tragedies befell and festered in these litigants to spawn such persistent vitriol for bathers, walkers and fishermen? Fighting logical opposition from environmental groups, state agencies, local governments and their own neighbors, they have proved their point that only they shall sit on the warm sands of Pleasant View to celebrate summer with champagne and pule cheese. And oh that pule, if only I could only think of its other name.”
Considering theses bills about poaching & beach access in the house, this is an interesting move for Rep. McEntee, who also co-sponsors H555 which would prohibit legal firearm owners from being in possession while on school grounds, H5554 which seeks to ban firearm magazines holding more than then rounds (let’s not forget the conspicuous word “surrender” in her wording) and H5553 which would make it a felony for a legal firearm owner to have a loaded weapon in their home, to then support the freedom to walk a beach. How is our constitutionally-protected right to access the shoreline much different than our constitutionally-protected right to bear arms, especially inside our own homes?
Sunset over a PUBLIC South County beach. William McCusker photo
Nonetheless, H5469’s added language reads, “No person shall be prosecuted, punished or subject to any penalty or forfeiture for or on account of conduct or an attempt to engage in conduct protected in the Rhode Island (Constitution, Art. 1 § 17) when the conduct or attempted conduct occurs on a sandy or rocky shore and within ten feet of the most recent high tide line. Protected conduct shall include, but not be limited to, fishing, gathering seaweed, swimming, and passage along the shore.”
H5469 is a welcomed conversation and should go a long way to reminding people with waterfront property that the beach is shared by all of us, at least below the weed line, which can stink as badly as some arguments against public access.
Poaching Is a Crime and Needs to Be Treated As Such
Poacher Enforcement, H5737 introduced by Rep. Joseph J. Solomon
It’s a social media barn burning when someone gets caught stealing fish or deer. Poacher methods are often clandestine, occasionally patently brazen but when we read about their thieving ways, we pound fists and swear we would love to string them up followed by demanding the law to do more. Now is our chance, to an extent.
The Warwick Democrat has introduced “An Act Relating To Fish and Wildlife-Violations.” H5737 proposes just two changes to existing law. The first changes first-time offense fees from five hundred to one thousand dollars. That’s a good start but likely not a game changer for striper poachers who sell their catch here and in other states. The second, with change in italics, adds language to third time offenders. “Upon conviction, not less than five hundred dollars for each striped bass taken, possessed, sold or possessed, and/or offered for sale and imprisonment for up to ninety days, or both; and any boat, fishing tackle or other implements used in this violation shall be subject to forfeiture to the state. Any person convicted of multiple violations on a single occurrence of the provisions of this chapter by the department of environmental management shall have their name and photo posted on social media or Internet based platforms.”
Now’s Rep. Solomon needs to dig in, adding seizure of tools used to commit even the first crime and that’s what poaching is. Rods, reels, tackle, nets, gaffs, boats, trailers and motors. Seize them until trial. If there are extenuating circumstances with first offenses, discretion can be applied by judges. If poachers are found guilty, auction off or destroy the tools. Too many good people like the American Saltwater Guides Association are negotiating new regulations to protect striped bass as a migratory species with a fair set of rules coastwise to have poachers balance their ill-gotten gains on the size of small penalties as the cost of doing business.
Speaking of judges, this is the time to appropriate funding for a court system which understands animals, wildlife, fish, shellfish, etc. and their importance to nature, our economy and our very lives. We needs judges who fish, hunt, ski, hike and go clamming. It’s not hard to imagine finding talented, motivated, honest magistrates who might work a few days a week in a courtroom of alleged poachers to keep the system moving and to send a critical message that costs of poaching are indeed too high.
You can reach Rep. Solomon with your thoughts, suggestions and even stories of how poaching has affected your personally