As a youngster, my dad treated me to an assortment of hunting and fishing adventures. He was a terrific outdoorsman who taught me the essentials, and he demonstrated outdoor responsibility in a way I did not appreciate as a youth. He was a stickler for regulations and shared the view that a person’s character is on display most when no one else is looking.
As an assistant director with the Department of Conservation, one of my assignments is to chair the agency’s Regulations Committee. The Committee pours through data, surveys, staff recommendations and public thoughts to formulate recommendations ultimately considered by the Conservation Commission.
Hunting and fishing regulations are adopted for different purposes. The most important is to ensure resources are not overused. Some species are much more influenced by harvest than others. For example, hunting is without question the most important factor affecting deer numbers. When deer were uncommon, buck-only seasons were appropriate. Now that herd control is paramount, regulations such as antler restrictions are designed to target does.
For other species, harvest impacts may be less important. Wild turkey harvests, for example, don’t have much bearing on overall turkey populations because turkey numbers fluctuate largely in response to their annual reproductive success. A three-week spring season targeting gobblers isn’t likely to diminish the turkey population because toms are harvested after breeding has occurred. A two-bird limit is applied with no more than one bird taken during the first week of the season. In this case, the two-bird limit is designed to fairly distribute harvest among hunters. Bag limits are usually employed to ensure a fair distribution of harvest more than to limit total harvest.
Other regulations reflect values, culture and traditions. To be certain, these vary from state to state, but are very real. Baiting for the purpose of hunting has long been illegal in Missouri because it provides unfair advantage to the hunter, concentrates wildlife in an unnatural fashion, creates conflicts among landowners and might have disease transmission implications. Most species cannot be hunted at night because it is considered unethical. Hand fishing has been banned since 1919. The removal of parent catfish from nests dooms reproduction because a fatal fungus forms on catfish eggs. Hand fishing also targets the largest fish that take years to reach their size and removes fish when they would otherwise be invulnerable to legal fishing because they are tending their eggs.
Hunting and fishing regulations serve a variety of purposes. Certainly their primary intent is to protect the fish and wildlife Missourians cherish. However, they also reflect standards of fair chase and are sometimes designed to ensure that allowable harvests are fairly distributed.
The Department takes its responsibility for establishing effective regulations very seriously, and it welcomes ideas from citizens on how regulations can be improved. If you have ideas, we’d like to hear from you!
Dave Erickson, assistant director
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