Shooting Fish

12 Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Law 188 (2020)

56 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2019 Last revised: 7 Jan 2021

Date Written: September 4, 2019

Abstract

This article sets out to answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Is it legal to shoot fish with guns? This burning legal query has never had an exhaustive and obsessively-researched answer. Until now.

In a fifty-state survey of laws that explicitly or incidentally restrict shooting fish, this article finds that every state has laws or regulations that either explicitly or effectively ban shooting fish — with some narrow exceptions. This article simultaneously serves as an invaluable resource to heavily-armed anglers throughout the country, and illuminates a facet of the complex system of legal rules governing fishing in all states. The regrettable lack of academic discussion of shooting fish and state laws on the subject belies the complex legal, environmental, and constitutional implications of these laws.

This article explores those implications. States’ statutory and regulatory schemes range from explicitly defining fishing methods, to creating long lists of prohibited fishing techniques (think bans on slurp guns, slingbows, fish pews, tree-topping devices, giant powder, and fishberries, to name just a few). Many states employ location- and species-specific laws and regulations — often targeting invasive fish species by permitting wider ranges of methods for taking them. This article also addresses the environmental implications of fish-shooting laws, and why these laws exist. It also notes historic attempts to loosen shooting restrictions — attempts frequently inspired by the proliferation of high-flying, fast-multiplying Asian carp.

Not to disappoint mainstream enthusiasts of legal scholarship, the article closes with a discussion of the state and federal constitutional implications of fish-shooting restrictions. While bans on shooting fish do not raise significant Second Amendment concerns, certain states’ prohibitions on firearm possession incidental to shooting fish do. This article also acknowledges state constitutional provisions that set forth the right to hunt and fish, but notes that these provisions are unlikely to give rise to successful legal challenges by fish-shooting enthusiasts.

Keywords: environmental law, constitutional law, animal law, fishing, hunting, state constitutional law, Second Amendment

Suggested Citation

Smith, Michael L., Shooting Fish (September 4, 2019). 12 Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Law 188 (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3447657

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