News from the Front #39:

Washington Initiative 713 Outlaws Gillnets

On November 7, 2000, by a margin of 1,315,903 to 1,193,587, citizens of the State of Washington passed Initiative 713.  It is now a misdemeanor in the State of Washington to "use or authorize the use of any steel-jawed leghold trap or any other body-gripping trap to capture any animal".  The Initiative defines "animal" to mean "any nonhuman vertebrate", which of course includes salmon.

This Initiative was brought to you by the same brain-dead urban ideologues who thought it vital  to prevent hunters from "cruelly" running down cougars with dogs, without thinking that each cougar saved thereby will bring violent, bloody, and cruel deaths to a hundred pounds of Bambi a week.  The Initiative reeks of the hypocrisy that characterizes the urban elites, as they exempt their own massive slaughter of "nonhuman vertebrates" from the law.  God forbid a mouse should be permitted to chew into an urbanite's cereal box; it's much more important to prevent that than to prevent wanton slaughter of a farmer's prize stock.   Thus "common rat and mouse traps are not considered body-gripping traps" for purposes of the Initiative.  (Because the initiative was written by hypocritical urbanites, not suburbanites, it lacks the customary exemption for mole traps.)

The Secretary of State's website tells me that Ms. Lisa A. Wathne sponsored this initiative, and even gives her phone number.  So I called her up and said, "doesn't this Initiative outlaw gillnets?"  "Of course not," she said.  I imagined I could sense her solidarity with the commercial harvest industry right through the phone.  "Gillnets are not traps," says Ms. Wathne.  But what Ms. Wathne thinks doesn't really matter for interpreting the Initiative, because the Initiative defines "body-gripping traps" in a way that includes gillnets:

"'Body-gripping trap' means a trap that grips an animal's body or body part  Body-gripping trap includes, but is not limited to, steel-jawed leghold traps, padded-jaw leghold traps, Conibear traps, neck snares, and nonstrangling foot snares."  

The drafters of the Initiative, whether or not they will admit it, plainly intended to cast a broad net with this language, as traps "include, but are not limited to" snares, and "body-gripping" means gripping any "body part".  

A loop of cord that strangles a fish is plainly a "trap", since "neck snares" are covered.  It would be odd indeed if a great number of loops melded into a net could, by virtue of the extra killing power, escape the definition of a "body-gripping trap".  After all, the Webster's definition of "trap" is "a device for catching animals", which plainly covers gillnets.  There are nets that do not grip the bodies of fish, just as there are box traps that do not grip the bodies of mammals; box traps are specifically excluded by the Initiative.  In any event, gillnets fall within a common sense reading of the Initiative.

And if that weren't enough, where the words are ambiguous, one customarily looks to the intent of an Initiative. Initiative 713 helpfully spells out several objects of its intent.  In addition to the ostensible reason for the measure, stopping steel-jawed leghold traps that give rise to the fundraising pictures, the Initiative squarely states that it is intended to "safeguard threatened and endangered species".  Gillnets are among the greatest killers of threatened and endangered salmon in the State of Washington, and it is precisely congruent with the intent of the Initiative to outlaw them.

Thus it does not require anything approaching judicial activism to interpret Initiative 713 to make gillnetting, and authorizing gillnetting, a crime.  It is a garden-variety interpretation of law.  One need not emulate the Florida Supreme Court, deciding that "shall" means "shall not" and "may" means "may not"; one need only conclude that "body-gripping traps" includes gillnets that put a death grip on salmon bodies.   So an honest judge could easily conclude that gillnets are no longer legal in the State of Washington.   

I know many Washington citizens on the East side of the Cascades would be reluctant to use the long arm of the law to attack another citizen's business, even gillnetting, but the gillnetters are dangerous enemies of the rights of all Washington citizens.  They have bought and paid for politicians to straight-facedly assert that because things you do might have one chance in ten thousand of making one ten-thousandth of a fish in the next thousand years, you cannot use your property as you wish.  They give boatloads of money to the likes of Ms. Wathne to harass land-based businesses under the banner of "habitat conservation".   They deserve to be sued on this one. 

Indeed, I'd like to see some enterprising Eastside District Attorney indict the Fisheries Department officials who authorize the very next gillnetting season, but I don't put much faith in prosecutors any more.  So it's up to you.  Who will step up to the plate and sue?  Even when you lose, because judicial activism will probably save the gillnetters from Initiative 713, the effort will constitute "endless pressure, endlessly applied", to borrow the Sierra Club's slogan.  The publicity over the suit can help remind people that the so-called endangered salmon of the Pacific Northwest are the only endangered species in the world that you can buy for a few bucks a pound, and grill for dinner.

James Buchal, December 15, 2000

You have permission to reprint this article, and are encouraged to do so. The sooner people figure out what's going on, the quicker we'll have more fish in the rivers.

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