Regulations vs. Morals

Michael Thacker
Staff Writer

“If I could shoot 4 deer, I could technically keep them all,” D’Jay O’Brien said. “But I never would because I don’t need that many to feed my family.”

Need can be a funny thing. It’s often a perceived need that leads people to how much they harvest while hunting and fishing. Whether the need is for personal recognition or feeding their family, people tend to feel that the regulation amount is either just right, or not enough. What people fail to realize is that that’s why we have regulations. To protect the species that surround us from people’s personal beliefs. 

Ross Dorendorf from the Fish and Game Department of Ketchikan Alaska has first-hand knowledge of the regulations and why they’re updated. He knows the history of market hunting and how it impacted the start of hunting and fishing regulations.

“We have to limit people to a certain bag limit because if we didn’t they would harvest everything they could,” Dorendorf said. “Eventually, nothing would be left.”

Doerndorf gets complaints all the time about changing regulations and thinks the main issue is misinformed people. Many people blame the local Fish and Game Departments for regulations when most of them are made at the Federal level. 

“People put in proposals and they get to decide which ones get put in effect. Of course, the F&G Department put in most of the proposals for regulation changes cause we see them first-hand, but anyone anywhere in the world can do it,” Dorendorf said. “If more people knew that information, more people could make proposals to maybe cause a difference”

Morals are to blame for whether you open the door for a lady and how you eat at the table, it only makes sense they would affect the way you harvest game. The people with the best morals do whatever possible to conserve the wildlife, even if it puts them at risk. 

“The way people treat nature affects how we have to monitor the wildlife,” Dorendorf Said. ”An example of someone with great ethics would be if they reported themselves when there was no one else around for something like hitting 2 deer and going over a bag limit. Many people would try to keep it hushed up, just to get in a hot heap of trouble when they get reported.”

Mark Finses is a Wildlife State Trooper in Ketchikan, Alaska that deals with enforcing game regulations all year round he says he deals with issues all year round. He says the office gets up to 10 calls a day in summer and 10 calls a week in winter. Unfortunately, most big events are nearly impossible to prevent. 

 “It’s generally small things like fishermen snagging on the wrong side of the bridge in Hering Cove that’s quick to fix just by informing the public,” Finses said. “Big things though are almost impossible to resolve. Spotlight hunters on Gravina may never get reported, let alone tracked down and prosecuted.”

Finses feels personal ethics conflict with legal ethics and that’s where the problems start. 

“Personal ethics vs legal ethics conflict a lot. Most people have a different outlook on every regulation whether it be setting a higher standard for themselves or setting it even lower. For example, no law says you can’t shoot a duck on the water. Some people take this and information and refuse to shoot them until they’re flying. I, however, would shoot all I could while they were still.”

Learning ethics
Most people learn their morals from friends and family. The perfect example for me was my father, Jonathan Thacker, who is someone who sets the bar higher for himself because of the way he lived as a kid. I remember him throwing back my first catch as a child because it wasn’t big enough. He learned his respect for nature as a child. 

“As a kid, my family had little to no money. We relied on the rivers in Kentucky to feed us.” Thacker said. “We set out trotlines and checked them daily. We got tens of pounds of fish every day and threw back all the small catfish and everything after our limit. This meant that most of our fish went back into the muddy water they came from. It was our way of showing respect even though we needed the food. We respected the regulations and lived off the same river for almost 20 years. More if you count my father’s childhood.” 

Thacker has seen many people not share similar respect to nature and that’s why even today in Ketchikan he set’s the bar high. He feels that if everyone had the same respect for nature as he did as a child there would be no need for regulations.

“I see people hunt and fish in protected land all the time in my line of work. We’ve even had someone break into the Whitman Lake Hatchery and steal king salmon fry. People like that are why I set the bar so high for myself. To make up for what gets overlooked. and maybe give nature a chance to support everyone. Its an issue of respect for the land.”

Why it matters
In Ketchikan, Alaska the public has already been informed there is no harvest allowed for pelagic rockfish in the upcoming year. This is a perfect example of why it matters. If people did “the right thing” and released undersized fish, there would be no need to cut off harvest. 

O’Brien fears a future in which our beautiful species of wildlife have just disappeared.

 “I never want it to get to the point where we have to tell our grandkids that it used to be cool to be able to catch these things called yelloweye,” O’Brien said. “They grew really slow and if you caught one that’s a decent size it would be 60 years old just to hear, “Really grandpa I’ve never seen one of those.” That would be one of the most tragic things to hear. That’s why the regulations are here, to protect resources like our different fish species and I feel you should, at the minimum, adhere to them.”

Looking in the United States history alone shows plenty of examples of unfortunate species lost in time due to over-harvesting. 

“It used to be perfectly legal to obtain and sell game products like meat and furs in masses,” Dorendorf said. “So many people did it that we eventually started harvesting so much we were killing off entire species like the buffaloes of the Midwest. Much of our past was like this.”

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