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Old 05-18-2003, 03:58 PM   #1
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Let me first say that I have nothing to hide, BUT . . . for you lawyers out there . . .

Do I have to let the Fish & Wildlife officers search my boat every time I come back from offshore? There's only one way to get to the Gulf from Destin / Ft Walton, and the FWS is there every afternoon stopping boats on their way in. Heck I even had them search me when I was 5 miles offshore anchored over a wreck (and getting skunked, by the way). I have nothing against them doing their job & enforcing the law, but this seems un-American. I mean, I don't get randomly pulled over in my car so that the police can search it. Seems like they ought to have "probable cause," i.e. they saw you pull in a shortie & throw it in the fishbox.

Having said that, if they want to jump on my boat I'm always polite, let them do their thing, and get on with my life. It's been a couple weeks since they last stopped me, and I don't remember if they ask & I say "OK" (i.e. consent to search). At any rate they sure act like they have a right to come on board.

Whatcha think?
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Old 05-18-2003, 04:12 PM   #2
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Not sure, but I've heard they have more authority to search than other branches of law enforcement. Seems that I recall hearing about some drug dealer hauling his cargo in a commercial fishing / seafood truck and getting busted in a search for illegal fish by these guys. Normal law enforcement would supposedly not had reason to seach without probable cause, but a search by wildlife officials was acceptable.

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Old 05-18-2003, 04:21 PM   #3
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

I think there is something about being on the water that makes it easier for them to search than if you were in your home, or on your personal property. I think they have more right to search than a police officer on the road...
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Old 05-18-2003, 04:52 PM   #4
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

A couple of years ago, I was fishing about 60 miles offshore. I noticed a CG Cutter in the area but continued to fish. About an hour later, the Cutter deployed a rubber raft and asked if they could board me. 60 miles offshore. I asked them why and they replied "we were bored and you were here." Nothing was wrong, but the boarding took about an hour of my precious fishing time.
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Old 05-18-2003, 04:56 PM   #5
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Here’s the deal. If law enforcement stops you on the water, they have the right to check your safety equipment. This doesn’t give them the right to board your vessel but you must produce all necessary safety equipment. If you cannot do this, then they now have authority to board for further inspection. If your equipment is permanently mounted or your boat has sanitation equipment, they can technically board without consent. Also, if they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe safety violations have occurred, they can board. Below is the link to that statute.;Section%2056

If they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe marine fishery laws have been broken, they can board your vessel. Below is the link to that statute.


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Old 05-18-2003, 05:05 PM   #6
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Laws or not, after 911, I don't think there is a court in the land that would listen if you told these guys to pound sand when they ask to board and inspect. If they want to board and inspect, I'll be glad to let them check everything - that way they'll be on their way and I'll have my lines back in the water that much sooner.

The only way I would ever refuse boarding / inspection is if in my (the captain's) opinion, boarding and inspection would pose a hazard (i.e. wanting to tie up and inspect while bobbing around in rough water or drifting in proximity of hazards).

Let them do their job. Then look at them in their dark uniforms and chuckle when it's 95 degrees in the shade and they are burning up. It's a thankless job and they are only trying their best (at least most of the time).
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Old 05-18-2003, 05:34 PM   #7
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

quote: Laws or not, after 911, I don't think there is a court in the land that would listen if you told these guys to pound sand when they ask to board and inspect

Are you saying that the courts will disregard the laws....because of 911. If so where are we headed?

Was there something in the Patriot Act ?

Are there more armed government employees policing
us disobedient boaters?

Can they board you without permission?
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Old 05-18-2003, 05:53 PM   #8
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Also begs the question that if your'e stopped in your vehicle do you consent to search, knowing there is no contraband, just to get underway faster. Absent p.c., HELL NO!

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Old 05-18-2003, 05:57 PM   #9
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

In NY the DEC can board and search any time they want. No permission or warrants needed. They have more authority than the police here.

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Old 05-18-2003, 06:49 PM   #10
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

The Court of Appeals in Minnesota recently tossed out a case against a man who refused to let State Conservation Officers search his boat. Now the State Supremes will be weighing in with their decision:

3/11/03 MINNESOTA: State Supreme Court hears DNR boat search case
Associated Press

A case that tests the limits on boat searches by conservation officers drew the state Supreme Court into a debate Monday over the value Minnesotans place on protecting natural resources vs. their expectation of privacy.

Justices heard the case of John Colosimo, a lawyer from Virginia, Minn., who wouldn't let a game warden inspect his boat on a portage between two lakes in northern Minnesota. Colosimo was convicted for refusing an inspection, but it was overturned last summer by the Court of Appeals.

On one side, Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jeff Vlatkovich argued that conservation officers would be hamstrung if they needed to establish probable cause of a violation before a "limited inspection" of fishing boats. He leaned on Minnesota's constitutional mention of managing and preserving game and fish.

With 2.1 million anglers and fewer than 200 officers in the state, he said, "it's the only way to enforce game and fish laws."

On the other side, Colosimo warned that allowing officers to act without some evidence of wrongdoing would infringe on the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure.

"This is not about fish and game," Colosimo said. "This is about individual rights."

In the middle were the justices, whose decision in a few months could define the balance. As usual, they didn't tip their hands. Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz said the argument for individual rights was "very attractive," but she also expressed concern about making a "mockery" of game and fish laws by making them next to impossible to enforce.

The case is made even more difficult by the fact that Colosimo and four friends weren't in the act of fishing — or in the water — when the officer approached and eventually asked to search the boat.

Colosimo said he doesn't mind showing game wardens his license while he's fishing. He objects to letting them look in a live well or another part of the boat not in plain sight without consent or probable cause of a crime.

"A 'limited' search is a subjective thing," he said. "There has to be objective standards."

Vlatkovich said hunting and fishing is a regulated activity and a privilege.

"The intrusion is minimal," Vlatkovich said. He added later, "I'm not talking about going in glove compartments; I'm not talking about tearing apart suitcases." The inspections, he said, are limited to areas where caught fish are generally held.

At least one justice sounded skeptical.

"There's a difference between saying, 'May I please see your catch' and 'May I search your boat,' " said Justice Helen Meyer.

The case has parallels to one the Supreme Court decided last year. In August, the court ruled that conservation officers need permission or a warrant to enter ice-fishing houses to check for violations.

As that case moved through the courts and word about it spread, Department of Natural Resources conservation officers noticed more anglers refusing spot checks.
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Old 05-18-2003, 06:50 PM   #11
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

I know that in Texas, Fish and Wildlife officers are (or were, things could have changed), the only LEOS who could enter your house without a warrant. On the positive side, in my opinion, those guys are generally a large cut above the average small town cop as far as dedication and professionalism are concerned. Naturally there are exceptions.

As far as the tragedy of 911 having anything to do with searching a guy's fishing boat... Let's just go ahead and subordinate the rest of our civil liberties in the name of anti-terrorism. I believe it is our patriotic duty to follow constitutional law and to make sure that others, including law enforcement, do the same. Do not consent to frivolous searches, know your rights and stick to them.

No need flamin me on this, I already know I'm a "bad American" because I don't follow the party line. But then again, my lips don't move while I read comic books nor do I recite talk radio ideology. Prefer to do my own thinkin'. Chuck
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Old 05-18-2003, 07:28 PM   #12
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?


You beat me to it. An all powerfull government is a very dangerous thing. Anybody wanting to board my boat is going to cite reasons and statutes. Everybody that says "Don't make 'em angry, they've got a tough job to do", sorry I don't buy it - my job sucks ass too, everybody wants more out of me than I can deliver and doesn't want to pay me what I'm worth - welcome to the real world.

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Old 05-18-2003, 07:46 PM   #13
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

One way I found around getting stopped constantly is to have Coast Guard Safety inspection performed on your vessel.
The Coast Guard Auxilliary will do this for free.
When you pass inspection, you will be given an orange inspection sticker about 4" diameter.
If you place this on the port side of helm area Marine Patrol will usually get close enough to see sticker, wave and leave.

My $.02
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Old 05-18-2003, 08:00 PM   #14
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Historicaly the curts have allowed the government greater leeway to act during national emergencies. I'm afraid I cant cite any examples but I remember reading this in an article somewhere.

In the long-run, the temporary infringements on our rights were over-turned on apeal but the courts acted slowly so the emergency had passed. No permanent damge was done to our rights but people were greatly inconvenienced in the meantime.

I'm not saying this is right, I am saying this is the precedent we can expect to be followed.

On refusing a search... Just saying "no" to a search, I believe, is protected under the Federal Constitution. Resisting or interfering with a search is a seperate crime even if the search later turns out to have been warrantless, lacking in probable cause or even illegal in itself.

How to legally refuse a search is discussed a lot in the 2nd Amendment press.

My amateur advice to anyone facing a search they don't want to endure should make a statement to the effect, "I refuse permission for a search but will not resist it." Then, stand where you are told to stand and give the keys to any locked area the LEO/CG requestes entry to. You and I may not know the law but I'd expect tghis to deter (no pun intended) most "fishing expeditions."

When the ordeal is over, contact your lawyer and/or legislative representative to pursue your grievance.

I agree that most law-enforcement folks are honest and doing a difficult job so give them the benefit of the doubt as much as possible.

One day at a time.
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Old 05-18-2003, 09:16 PM   #15
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Downunder - I was a wildlife officer for some years. Our laws are basically similar. I needed no warrant to enter any house, caravan, or stop any vehicle.

The Wildife Act along with the Fisheries Act, were the only two acts where probably cause and a warrant werent required.

All the same, the act provided an appeal process where if you felt an officer had enfoced his powers without due probable cause, you COULD appeal to an independant board who would review the complaint and if upheld - revoke the officers powers.

So - going in without probable cause and subsequently comming up short on a conviction could basically cost you your job.

Fisheries Officers had same powers over vessels.

Our wldlife and Fishery Laws were modelled off your USA laws so i'd be surprised if they aren't very similar in that regard.

All the same, as a Wildlife Officer - I didn't stop 4wd's out in the bush, obviously shooting wildlife illegally and growing drug crops etc - thats a good way to end up dead tootsweet, I'd stay conceiled - get vehicle numbers - photo's of perps (ie gather evidence), THEN, I'd go check out their past form at the local police station on the computer to see if they had any previous GBH, Firearms related convictions etc - to see how bad an egg they really were. Then - I'd take armed police along with me when I busted their sorry ass next time.
(Coz they'd get cocky thinking they got away with it first time!).

I'd be surprised if the Fisheries dudes inspecting your boat - don't already know LOTS about you and what fishing you do - LONG before they stop and board your vessel - if they don't then they are IMHO dipsticks looking fior a short career.

I used to make a point of doing my homework - saved my sorry ass more than once.

I once went fishing to a place here where Fisheries inspectors are renowned for doing vessel searches (and being as bent as the fishers they were supposed to be busting).

I did my homework...on them!

When they boarded my boat, I didn't have so much as a scale of a fish on board, (Catch and release angler). I first greeted them bye their first names, (That scred em, I watched their eyes - I could tell), THEN made them PROVE - who they were before they boarded, bye showing me their ID - which I recorded in my lil black book, noting date time names numbers and their spoken words and actions, just like THEY would do - if THEY were going to try and gather evidence, get a confession or a witness statement etc.

They got nervous and left.

Very hard to 'verball' someone who has a written record of what went down, as it went down, along with a witness to those written records....basically they know somethings up when you do that.

Lastly - I reminded them of MY Miranda rights - namely to remain silent. I didn't answer any of their questions, let them do their own investigation it's not in my interests to tell them squat.

They left looking very very nervous.

Never heard from em again!

Police, Wildlife, Fisheries, don't like the thought that they may have bitten off more than they can chew...they like the idea even less that someone might be gathering evidence on them!!!

You can't be a smart ass about this stuff - you HAVE to know what your doing, and make the right notes in the right way at just the right time very politely.

Statements like - "would you remind repeating that question please officer" (as you note it down methodically) and then reply as an answer that your miranda rights mean your not obligated to answer that question.

Next question - same thing - note it down word for word - get him to repeat it if necessary, and then - no answer - a/c miranda rights.

You can only do this if you aint broke any laws, AND have a witness.

Sure makes enforcement officers stop n think about how sure they are of their position...also ensures they treat you a WHOLE lot different to average Joe. (They realise you've had the same training as them, which makes em start to wonderabout WHAT arm of the law YOU really are!!!).

It's fun if you know how and are prepared.

I could hear these two arguing as they left, "who was that fricken bloke?", "shutup - don't know - but he knew our names, did you spot that?"..."yeah, do you think head Office are testing us?", "dunno - could be" "What the F*&@k have they found out?" "dunno - do you think they heard about..." "shutup F*&@k you - he might hear us"....

Lifes no fun if you're not prepared.

Little did these two clowns know - I'd found their illegal longline, a day before - and sat off and watched (from the top of a nearbye island) em pull it.

I knew already who the real crooks were, and due to my Sat Phone so did their bosses, who I relayed the events blow bye blow to as it was happening. They at first said "maybe they are just doing their job and checking it?" - when I said yeah well why are they rebaiting and re setting it then...they realised I was right.

Strangely they weren't there, next time I went back - and two beaut fellers were - who did a great job of cleaning up the joint and all it's nefarious ingrained corrupt practices.

Ya just gotta know how the games played - and have done your homework. Not all law enforcement people are crooks (some are really great dedicated folks) - but some are, and it pays to remember that when dealing with these people.


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Old 05-18-2003, 09:35 PM   #16
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Another point...The courts look at officers' motives when judging the reasonableness of searches. When cops search your car or when inland wildlife officers search your boat,the courts know that the motive of the police is simply to detect violations of law. At all international boundaries (borders, airports, coming in from the ocean), the major motive of law enforcement, at least in legal theory, is to protect the national security and sovereignty, so that the officials generally have much more authority to search. There's a big difference between trying to determine whether a kid in a car is holding dope and whether a boat coming in from offshore is carrying a bomb or smuggling anything else that damages the national interest(like illegals or wholesale amounts of drugs from abroad). For the same reasons, Customs inspectors at border crossings and internmational arrival terminals have almost unlimited powers of search.

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Old 05-19-2003, 03:13 AM   #17
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Exactly... My thoughts are to stay polite, and just let them do their job.

I've only been boarded and inspected once in the last 8 years, and once I showed them my safety equipment, they quickly went merrily along their way.

I have been approached (but not boarded and inspected) a few times, and asked to show PFD's, etc.

The first time, I gave a smart ass answer - "why, are you missing yours?" That went over like a f*rt in church. That's when I had to show them everything, including expiration dates on flares!

So, my thoughts now are just let them do their thing and get on with life. I've got better things to do when I am out fishing than argue the fourth amendment.

I'll save that fight for the time of my choosing!
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Old 05-19-2003, 04:24 AM   #18
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

This might be a stupid question,but how can a wild life officer have more authority than any other police officer.All officers take the same oath ,and are charged with enforcing the laws of a particular state.I was under the understanding that any officer of the law had to follow the same laws!
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Old 05-19-2003, 05:03 AM   #19
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

Many years ago when my father would take me hunting or fishing as a young boy, we would be stopped by the Game Warden. More times then not my father would know the man and his family. It was more of a catching up on old news type visit rather then an inspection. My father always had the proper license and never brkoe any game laws. The visit with the Game Warden always left a good feeling and we often times learned where the fish were biting during the conversation.
Now that being said; In the last ten years I dread seeing a Wildlife and Fisheries Officers approaching me, my experiences have not been nearly as nice. I sometimes think they are on a quota system where they have to write X number of tickets before they can go home. I have had my fishing license dropped in the water, my boat knocked around during their approach, 40# of ice dumped in the bottom of my boat, cause they thought I had fish hidden, written up for an undersize bass (14" minimum size, fish measured 13 7/8 by officer after being on ice for 4 hours, it was 14 1/4 when I caught it). Never had a safety violation but that didn't stop an officer from discharging my fire extinguisher just to see if it worked.
I don't know about other states but my general opinion of Game Wardens is deffinitely not as positive as it used to be. The every day sportsman is treated as if he is on the way to breaking the game laws, or the Game Warden thinks that the fish and game are his personal property. Well in La. that might be so; the state has just completed a tax swap deal with British Pet. they gave us 75,000 acres of land, the state let them slide on millions in back taxes. Guess what they are going to do with the property, THE GOVERNOR and his friends were going to turn it into what amounted to a private hunting club for themselves.
If you people are doubting my word just do a search in the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, for White Lake. You just won't beleave your eyes. Public water and public land is FOR EVERYBODY!!!!
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Old 05-19-2003, 06:17 AM   #20
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Default Do I have to let Fish & Wildlife search my boat?

The biggest thing to remember about searches is that they are based in their "reasonableness" on one's expectancy of PRIVACY!!! Yes, you expect the right to maintain privacy in your home...totally. In a vehicle, not so much privacy because of the windows. Also LEO's are granted a little bit more "lattitude" on vehicles because they are easily moved from one place to another. Also there is a provision in NC law that takes into consideration if you're on public areas or not. In boats....well you get the picture. The enforcement of laws of this land become increasingly more difficult for the agents that attempt to do so. Being a LEO from NC, it really (probably shouldn't say this) bothers me to hear so many people talk about things they really have no knowledge of. If you know so much about law, then take the bar exam and start a practice. Now I agree that one act of one bad apple draws more attention than the thousands of good deeds done every day by people who are willing to give their lives, unselfishly. Unfortunately, the folks who complain about every little thing and file frivilous lawsuits is what makes our laws and the interpretation of those laws all the more cloudy. By the way, I am an Instructor for teaching the laws of arrest, search, seizure and interrogation in North Carolina. I'd be glad to offer free classes to educate the masses who just don't know any better
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