Smelter Gets Bagged by Game Warden

When does a one-quart bag hold more than one quart? Apparently, when it is used to hold a quart of smelts. Of course, that depends on the warden who checks your limit of smelts.

For two decades I’ve been expressing concern about the inconsistency of enforcement of some fish and game laws. Sportsmen need to know exactly what the laws and rules require, and game wardens should interpret and enforce those laws and rules consistently across the state. Otherwise, we are all in jeopardy every time we hunt and fish.

Consider the plight of Millinocket’s Dean LeVasseur, a Kidney Pond Ranger in Baxter Park. Smelting on the West Branch of the Penobscot River this spring, where anglers – for the first time this year – have a one-quart limit, Dean used a one-quart plastic bag as his measure.

Dean and four buddies enjoyed a good evening of smelting, each coming away with one quart of smelts. After measuring their catch in his one-quart plastic bag, Dean transferred all but his own smelts to a larger container. He actually had brought a quart bag for each of them, but four of the bags got away from him into the river.

On the way out to his truck, a Maine game warden stopped Dean and his friends to check their smelts. The warden re-measured the smelts and determined that the group had six quarts, not five. And he gave Dean a summons for over his limit, because he was the one carrying the smelts.

And here’s where the story gets really funny (unless you are Dean LeVasseur). The game warden used a Tupperware container as his measure! The warden had drawn lines across the container to mark one quart.

But it gets a lot worse. A few days earlier, while smelting with his granddaughter Deanna Oakes, Dean had been checked by a different game warden who found his quart bags to be perfectly fine. A news photographer happened to be on hand that night and a photo of Dean being checked and cleared by the warden appeared in the Bangor Daily News – two days after he got his summons!

You can check this out yourself, in the April 19 edition of the BDN.

Not a happy smelter, Dean tried to defend himself in court. Alas, he was unsuccessful, the Judge telling Dean, somewhat apologetically, that the law gave him no choice but to find Dean guilty, because by the warden’s measure, he had one too many quarts. Dean paid a $100 fine.

I have scoured the law and rules and find nothing that indicates what kind of quart container you must use to measure a quart of smelts. Apparently, even Maine game wardens don’t agree on this key question!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.