Recreational Fishing Regulations

Unlawful Recreational Fishing | A Defense Lawyer’s Viewpoint | Criminal Problems in the State of Washington

Fishing is a pleasurable, relaxing, outdoor pastime for many individuals but it is also an extremely heavily regulated activity in Washington State.  This creates problems for law-abiding citizens who get caught up in the hunt or push the boundaries of the law.   You must know all of these regulations and abide by them all time … there is no exception.   The State officials who enforce these regulations are notoriously zealous and heavy handed in their investigation, charging and enforcement so our defense attorneys know we need to fight these kinds of cases with equal vigor.

General Information on Recreational Fishing.

A fishing license is required for all individuals 15 and over, except when fishing for carp, crawfish, bullfrogs, smelt, or unclassified marine invertebrates.  A shellfish license is required to take anything falling under state shellfish regulations, such as sea cucumbers, seaweed, and squid.

There are several different types of licenses. A combination license permits you to fish in freshwater and saltwater, along with harvest shellfish.  A freshwater license permits you to fish only in fresh water areas, while saltwater licenses permit you to fish only in saltwater areas. A shellfish seaweed license allows you to harvest clams, red rock, coastal Dungeness crab, goose barnacles, mussels, octopus, oysters, scallops, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, shrimp, softshell and hard-shell slams, squid, and seaweed.  There is also a razor clam license which permits the harvesting of razor clams.  You do not need this license if you already have the shellfish license. If you want to harvest Puget Sound Dungeness crabs, you will need a special endorsement which is added to the normal shellfish license.  Separate catch cards are also required.  Similarly, if you want to fish with two poles, you will need a two-pole endorsement on top of your normal fishing license.  However, keep in mind two pole fishing is not allowed everywhere fishing is permitted. Do not forget your fishing license can also be suspended due to unpaid child support payments.

It is also important to remember when fishing for sturgeon, steelhead, salmon, halibut, and Puget Sound Dungeness crab, a catch record card must be used.  Cards must be filled out the second after a catch has been made and all anglers must return their catch cards by April 30.  This is a requirement even if you have not caught anything or did not fish.  The Washington State Sport Fishing Rules Book provides instructions on how to properly fill out your card if you have questions.

Individuals under 15 years of age, while not needing a license, must have in their possession a completed catch record card if they are fishing for halibut, steelhead, salmon, sturgeon, or Dungeness crab.  For Puget Sound Dungeness crab, the catch record card must be endorsed. 

In addition to being properly licensed, one of the first things an individual should do prior to fishing is consult the Washington State Sport Fishing Rules book. Recent updates | corrections are placed at the beginning of the book. 

After consulting the Washington State Sport Fishing Rules book, it is also important to double check to make sure there have not been any recent emergency rules implemented.  For example, as Fish & Wildlife obtain new information, such as animal fish levels in specific areas, the dates and locations of seasons may shift.  If the permissible times and locations to hunt or fish change, it is important to be aware of the new regulations otherwise you can open yourself up to criminal prosecution. Remember, you are responsible for making sure you are acting within the regulations.

Fish & Wildlife provides a clever interactive website which provides information about the different bodies of water and fish throughout the state.  You can look up what types of fish can be found, information on those types, and more.  This might be a good way to find both a new place to fish along with gaining the knowledge of what to be fishing for when you get there. 

Remember, if you are being contacted by law enforcement or a State agent, there is no such thing as a friendly discussion: their role is to investigate potential crimes and collect evidence.  Thus, the less said to such personnel, the better. Follow our advice for any criminal investigation and contact our legal team immediately to assure your rights and freedom are protected.

Common Types of Criminal Charges

In our roll as criminal defense attorneys, the most common criminal charge we see stemming from fishing is Unlawful Recreational Fishing in the second degree (2°). This charge can be the result of a variety of different actions or non-actions, such as failing to purchase a license and punch card or going fishing, catching a fish while not having a license on your person, fishing in a closed season, or any other rule governing the method of taking fish.  Unlawful Recreational Fishing in the Second Degree is a crime and is classified as a misdemeanor which would goes on your criminal record.  This means it is not simply a infraction, ticket or citation: it is a criminal charge whose conviction will result in a mark on your criminal record.  Being charged with a crime requires you to appear in court and a conviction can result in jail, fines, probation, and more.  Fortunately, we can typically waive your first appearance for arraignment.  Call our office and we can speak about the best approach to handling the matter.

An Unlawful recreational fishing in the first degree (1°) is a more serious offense. This charge can stem from catching over double the fish limit, fishing in a fishway, certain methods of fishing (such as using spears or snares,) or fishing for endangered /threatened fish, amongst other ways.  A 1° charge is a gross misdemeanor with risk of jail time, fines and criminal conviction. A criminal wildlife penalty will also be imposed with a conviction if certain fish were the subject of the criminal act, such as $2,000 for a green sturgeon and $500 for wild salmon or wild steelhead.  Sadly, these charges are serious because of their criminal nature and accepting a conviction without a fight is foolish.  Contact the criminal defense lawyers in our office for a consultation as to your facts and circumstances.

Robert Rhodes

With a successful background in law, courtrooms, wrestling, rugby and jujitsu, Robert Rhodes’s nature is well-suited for argument and litigation. Mr. Rhodes knows how to talk clearly and directly to his clients, adversaries and to the Court. His common sense, straight talk and experience put his clients immediately at ease. Mr. Rhodes does not do anything half way and you will sense this when you meet him. Read more >>