Bend fish and game laws? Don’t post it on social media

YEARS AGO my area had a popular winter fishing destination at the outflow of the now defunct Oyster Creek Power Station on the Jersey Shore. During the cold months, resident striped bass congregated in the warm discharge, most of which flowed through legally accessible public property. Crowds of anglers showed up, and many of them posted photos of their catches. Some have even filmed and posted their trips to this place on YouTube. Even the seemingly venerable released a well-produced video about Oyster Creek, calling it the place where summer fishing never ends. In this video, anglers openly admit that they found the spot thanks to YouTube videos. There was just one big problem: it was, and still is, illegal to target striped bass in the back bays of New Jersey between January 1st and March 1st.

As of March 1st, Oyster Creek was fair game, but people blatantly stocked their fish before that date. In some cases, they held the posts until March 1, thinking no one would consider snow on the ground making it clear this was shot weeks ago. Speaking to people who used to frequent the spot, many had the attitude, “Well, I know the season’s over, but everyone else down there is doing it.” That doesn’t justify the action, but it’s an attitude , which you might get away with if you’re reticent: you catch your fish, go and shut up. But for people looking for social recognition or building a channel, try to be anything but shy.

In my opinion, the casualness of making sure you’re following fishing regulations to the letter continues to grow as more people seek to make claims about social fishing content. New YouTube channels are popping up week after week; New “recommended” Instagram posts are sent to us every day. Each represents an individual or a burgeoning company willing to give their money to the platform to boost their presence. People are so hungry to be “somebody” that it’s not uncommon for them to take little risks in order to achieve that goal.

Bending the regulations is bad enough, but uploading the evidence is another matter. Natural Resources Police

One of the most recent instances of a YouTube video putting anglers in hot water happened in Alaska. According to the story on, Jacob Keels, Ryan Cornelio and Josh Liedes were cited for removing coho salmon from the Kenai River during the closed season between November and June. Kiele and Liedes were also cited for fishing without a license. But none of these violations have been cited in real time. Alaska Wildlife Troopers were able to issue the subpoenas because the three anglers posted their violations on their YouTube channel, Kenai Boys Outdoors. Perhaps the most important part of the story is that Kenai Boys Outdoors wasn’t exactly a channel with millions of viewers. It was practically brand new and proved that whether you’re the greatest at fishing or just starting to chase that dream, the wildlife authorities’ gavel is just as likely to fall on you.

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take your lumps

Keels just launched Kenai Boys Outdoors last summer and currently has just over 1,000 subscribers. To be fair, Keels and company were targeting in-season Kenai River rainbow trout. I assume cohos will shoot at the same offerings, effectively bycatching them. In this case, according to Alaskan rules, you must unhook the salmon without taking it out of the water.

Whether or not Keels and crew were aware of the rule is unclear, but as I have previously written, ignorance is never an acceptable excuse for violating fish and game laws. Familiarizing yourself with the intricacies of the rules only becomes doubly important if you plan on documenting your adventures for YouTube. And therein lies the discrepancy: If you work in outdoor media, it’s your job to know the law. It doesn’t matter if you have 5 or 500,000 followers.

If you work in outdoor media, it’s your job to know the laws. It doesn’t matter if you have 5 or 500,000 followers.

However, I imagine it would be easy to let content trump ethical or legal slip-ups early on in order to gain recognition. It can be very easy to think that not many people are paying attention right now. I also firmly believe that if you screw up, knowingly or unintentionally, you need to admit it. At least Keels did – sort of.

Shortly after the quotes were released, Kenai Boys Outdoors released a video talking about the incident. However, the title of the video is How To Fish For Winter Rainbows On The Upper Kenai. I know a little bit about search engine optimization, and that title reads like a tactic to bury the video. If someone were to search for something like “Kenai Boy’s apology” or “Kenai Boy’s handling of salmon” they would get no results. No rainbow trout is caught or tactics explained in the video. It’s essentially two minutes in which Keels broaches the subject, saying, “We’ve recently come to realize that we’ve been abusing salmon.”

He never speaks directly about the quotes. Also, he never brings up being subpoenaed for fishing without a license, which I think is a far worse and far less forgivable offense than mishandling a few fish.

Conservation officers and fisheries managers also keep an eye on your social media. Margaret Thompson/FWC

The bottom line is this: does any of these violations turn Keel and company into evil, horrible people? Absolutely not. Do they deserve to be shamed about her indefinitely? No they don’t. But you can’t deny that I wouldn’t be writing about them if these guys just enjoyed fishing instead of creating this valuable content to feed the machine. They ultimately made the decision (or the mistake) to go public with their violations. And this is certainly not the first time something like this has happened.

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A risky venture

As recently as February, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials were able to arrest poacher Sidney Hurst after a year-long investigation mostly focused on tracking his social media posts. In March of this year, David Jimenez, who goes by the nickname “Dolphin Dave” on social media, was cited in a video shot in Hawaii for molesting a humpback whale and a pod of dolphins. In January, YouTube stars Josh and Sarah Bowmar pleaded guilty to conspiring against the Lacey Act after filming content with a Nebraska outfitter who used illegal baited traps to attract white-tailed deer. I found these three examples of wanting to be at the forefront of social media and getting people in serious trouble in about 30 seconds by typing “wildlife injuries + social media” into a Google News search. Unfortunately, I could add pages and pages to the list.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be—or even aspire to be—an outdoor media game personality to get nailed over social media. You can just… well, be yourself. All of these platforms eventually started out as a way to keep in touch with close friends and family, and so many people continue to use them today. Maybe you hardly post anything. Maybe you only have 200 followers, so what are the chances that a quick grin with a striper or an out-of-season trout will snap you? Slimmer maybe, but not impossible considering the door swings both ways – your single post may seem to reach very few people, but it’s now part of a vast public database that wildlife agencies can’t ignore. Even if the authorities do not directly notice your wrongdoing, a shared message or message will suffice. Many state agencies closely monitor social media, particularly in high-traffic areas where violations are more common, such as in the United States. B. along many salmon tributaries and rivers of the Great Lakes, which fill up with spawning walleye.

The study showed that Big Brother is watching you even if you’re not bragging via photo or video.

A journal article on entitled “Digital fisheries data in the Internet age: Emerging tools for research and monitoring using online data in Leisure fisheries” mentions several case studies on the use of social media by wildlife agencies. One of the most intriguing has been related to the rise of land-based shark fishing in South Florida, a sport that has grown by leaps and bounds in the social media age. The study showed that even if you’re not bragging via photo or video, Big Brother is still watching you.

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From the article: Knowing what species are being caught by recreational fishermen is easiest when there is visual evidence in pictures or videos posted online. However, other types of social media data can provide insights into the social aspects of recreational fishermen. A content analysis of the text of posts in an online discussion forum examined which shark species were caught and released by South Florida’s land-based fisheries. The study found that many of the sharks caught belonged to protected species, with no change in fishing practices following the introduction of legal protections for hammerheads and tiger sharks. Several studies have shown that people share their illegal interactions with protected wildlife online, possibly anonymously using pseudonyms and aliases.

let’s be real

It saddens me that there is enough fodder for this column to even exist. Because when you think about it, it all boils down to simple common sense. What’s the #1 rule when you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing? Don’t get caught.

However, the problem is often with seemingly harmless actions in real time. As a final example, take this July 2022 story in the Missouri News & Observer. According to the article, one angler claimed he loaded a stringer full of largemouth bass just because he wanted a photo of a largemouth bass stringer for social media. Although the fish was held very well in his live well and theoretically could have been released unharmed after the shot if he had been careful the stringer shows two over limit fish and a few undersized fish. These were all the authorities needed for a retrospective citation.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. It can be fun and entertaining when it’s really about digital “social” interaction with friends and people you want to talk to and learn from. Most of the people I follow have one thing in common: authenticity. I’m much more attracted to spending my time with people who are willing to fail publicly, willing to admit they don’t know everything, and willing to be the butt of jokes.

It’s fair to say that when you examine many of the rulebreaks that got people into trouble with wildlife officials, there is an element of inauthenticity in each one. They agreed to take the risk to improve people’s perceptions of their ability to fish or hunt. In reality, they probably would have gotten more respect if they’d posted an empty string and commented, “I really sucked today.”