Whose fish is that? Understanding the laws behind group limits

LARGEMOUTH BASS TXI 28583You want to have a fish fry for friends and family, so you’re out on the lake with a buddy to catch a mess of catfish or white bass.

But it’s one of those days where you can’t catch a cold, and your friend is pulling in fish left and right. Can you let him catch both his limit and yours?

According to Grayson County Game Warden Dale Moses, the law is pretty straightforward with the answer, but enforcement is difficult.

“Everybody has got their own bag limit, and each person is supposed to catch their own fish,” Moses said. “But as far as the enforcement, if we don’t see it, or they don’t admit who caught each fish, it’s hard to enforce.”

Though each person has their own limit, anglers are allowed to keep fish in a single cooler, or stringer. But what about anglers who give their catch to others nearby, and then keep fishing?

“If he catches his limit and is giving other fish to people, the fish are still being retained,” he said. “It’s kind of like a guy that buys his one-year-old baby a hunting license, and the baby tags out with five deer.”

Finding out if an angler is sharing fish is not easy, or common, for wardens.

“Practically, it’s not really enforceable. We’re checking them coming into the marina, and as long as they have the correct number of fish for the boat, we’re not going to push it,” Moses said. “The boat situation is tough because we can’t see them doing it, and if we’re in a boat we’re just going to count the number of licensed fishermen and the number of fish total.”

If a warden does observe an angler catching fish and giving them to others, a ticket can be written for going over the daily possession limit, which can carry a $160 fine, plus the repossession of the fish.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual, doing anything short of returning the fish directly back to the water counts toward each individual’s limit.

“Fish caught and immediately released are not considered to be in your possession,” the manual states. “Any fish not immediately released that are retained by using any type of holding device such as stringer, cooler, livewell, or bucket are considered in your possession and must adhere to established protected length and bag limits.”

Another situation where the sharing of fish comes into play is the party boat fishing charters along the coast, where a multitude of anglers are all fishing the same location.

Katey Doleman, office assistant and reservation coordinator for Williams Boat Service in Galveston, said they have a system to stay within the law.

“We have coolers that the fish will go into, and we also have hooks on the boat that you hang the fish on with your individual spot number,” she said. “The fish can be thrown back, but they cannot be sold, and people on the boat can give them to other people if they would like, as long as they have the tags to cover the fish.”

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