Most of us read the WDFW fishing pamphlet, and for the most part, do not exactly understand WDFW authority. Fishermen who have been fishing for years have most likely encountered wildlife officers by means of a boat boarding. And if you have had your boat boarded you probably wonder exactly what authority do wildlife officers have. In this series, TITLE 77 RCW, I will be exploring different subjects as they relate to Title 77. I am hoping this series will help fishermen gain a solid understanding of the laws of WDFW and the authority of wildlife officers.
Today’s post (Part 1) will focus on three topics: 1) inspection authority. 2) search without warrant, seizure of evidence/property. And 3) forfeiture of property used in the commission of fish and wildlife violations.
First we have RCW 77.15.080—Inspection authority. This RCW says, “wildlife officers have the authority to temporarily stop the person and check for valid licenses, tags, permits, stamps, or catch record cards, and to inspect all fish, shellfish, seaweed, and wildlife in possession as well as the equipment being used to ensure compliance with the requirements of this title.” No surprises here, pretty straightforward, right?
Search without warrant, seizure of evidence/property
Next we have RCW 77.15.094 which lays out search without warrant, seizure of evidence/property. As a fisherman, there are a couple things you should know the next time you get boarded:
Reason to Believe
First, make sure the officers trying to board you boat must “have reason to believe [your boat] contain[s] evidence of a violation of law.” I don’t know about you, but the times I have been boarded they first are asking me about safety equipment or something else as a reason to gain access. I think that is maybe why they team up with the Coast Guard in some cases. Otherwise, in order to “have reason to believe [your boat] contain[s] evidence of a violation of law” they must have been watching you through binoculars, right?
I was once boarded 18 miles off shore. And I know for a fact they could not see me with binoculars. Wildlife officers intercepted my boat and boarded it. I did not know any better at the time. But I know for sure they did not “have reason to believe [my boat] contain[ed] evidence of a violation of law.” Lesson learned! Next time I will actually ask them before they board……Officer, per RCW 77.15.094 do you “have reason to believe my boat contains evidence of a violation of the law. Just to see what they say :).
Boat Cabin is Your Domicile
The second thing you should know if WDFW boards your boat is that the wildlife officers have no right to look in the boat’s cabin. RCW 77.15.094 says, “….this authority does not extend to quarters in a boat, building, or other property used exclusively as a private domicile, does not extend to transitory residences in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, and does not allow search and seizure without a warrant if the thing or place is protected from search without warrant within the meaning of Article I, section 7 of the state Constitution.” Now, I’m not telling you to hide things in your cabin, but just be aware that wildlife officers have no rights to search it.
Forfeiture of property used in the commission of fish and wildlife violations.
Warning: you might find the below disturbing, I know I definitely found it disturbing.
According to RCW 77.15.070 “Civil forfeiture of property used for violation of chapter” boats are subject to civil forfeiture regardless of whether they have been seized as evidence and wildlife officers may seize a boat without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe a boat is used with the intent to violate any RCW Title 77 Fish and Wildlife laws.
According to the Justice Department, civil forfeiture is a court proceeding brought against property. Property that was derived from or used to commit an offense, rather than against a person who committed an offense.”
Are you getting this? This means that wildlife officers have the authority to seize your boat without a warrant and with only probably cause. Unbelievable! They can take you boat without you even having your day in court. But, it gets even worse……
WDFW Keeps Your Boat!
RCW 77.15.070 (7) says that WDFW can keep your boat! “If seized property is forfeited under this section the department may retain it for official use unless the property is required to be destroyed….”. Or WDFW can sell your boat and “deposit the proceeds to the fish and wildlife enforcement reward account”.
This is all very unbelievable. The WDFW has way too much authority!
(Source: Click the picture below to go to Washington State Title 77 RCW Fish and Wildlife)