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Rolling in the Deep (Sea)

As summer heats up, things show up. Recently, news cycles and Facebook feeds seem to have seen an uptick in the number of reports regarding endangered, odd, or record-breaking species being spotted along the country’s rivers and coastlines.

Earlier this month, on the Caney Fork River in Tennessee, two friends fly fishing for striped bass unexpectedly landed an American paddlefish, weighing in at 55 pounds and measuring five-foot-long. What has yet to be verified as a female Pacific Football Fish, a bioluminescent angler fish living in coastal waters as deep as 3,000 feet, washed ashore, intact, at California’s Crystal Cove State Park. Replacing the previous 1985 record of 808 pounds, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department just verified the record-breaking catch of an 876-pound Bluefin tuna caught near Port Aransas, back in mid-April.

In Texas, aquatic species can be listed as threatened or endangered under the authority of state law, the U.S. Endangered Species Act, or both.

As defined in Chapter 65 of the Texas Administrative Code, a “threatened” species is any species that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has determined is likely to become endangered in the future. In early 2020, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approved and added 45 additional species to Texas’s list of species at risk of becoming endangered, including thirteen freshwater fish and three saltwater fish species, bumping up the State’s threatened species list 28 percent to 147 threatened species.

Under Chapter 68 of the Parks and Wildlife Code, Texas recognizes all federally recognized endangered species as endangered, but recognition does not necessarily go both ways in matters of Texas’s threatened species.

While Section 68.002 of the Parks and Wildlife Code states that a species indigenous to Texas will be considered endangered if on the list as threatened with statewide extinction, only 14 animals on the State’s threatened list are also federally recognized.

Unless as specifically provided for in Chapter 43 of the Parks and Wildlife Code, which allows permitting for the collection, holding, possession, display, transportation, release, or propagation of protected wildlife for scientific research, educational display, zoological collection, or rehabilitation to a qualified person, all other instances of such actions carry potential criminal and civil penalties, dependent on the number of times a person has violated the provisions of the Parks and Wildlife Code in the past.

Per Rule 65.177 of the Texas Administrative Code and under Sections 67.005 and 68.021 of the Parks and Wildlife Code, a person who violates the Parks and Wildlife Code may face the following:

  1. For a first-time offense, a Class C Parks and Wildlife Code misdemeanor, constituting a $25-to-$500 fine.
  2. For a second offense, a Class B Parks and Wildlife Code misdemeanor, constituting a $200-to-$2,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
  3. For a third offense or for any other offense thereafter, a Class A Parks and Wildlife Code misdemeanor, constituting a $500-to-$4,000 fine and/or one year in jail.

Violators can also be fined for state jail felonies, face automatic suspension or revocation of licenses for up to five years, and forfeit hunting gear – including firearms – used to commit a violation.

In addition to criminal penalties, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will seek civil recovery for the loss or damage to wildlife resources.

For more information regarding licensing, fishing, or hunting, please contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at (800) 792-1112. To report information regarding a possible wildlife crime, call Operation Game Thief at (800) 792-GAME.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our commercial and business litigation practice can be found here.

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