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Utah says overfishing to blame for this year’s fall surge in illegal wildlife killings

The Utah Division of Wildlife resources relies heavily on the public to report poaching. This year’s jump in cases can be explained by overfishing.
courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
The Utah Division of Wildlife resources relies heavily on the public to report poaching. This year’s jump in cases can be explained by overfishing.

According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 319 wild animals have been killed illegally in Utah since Aug. 1. Over the same time period last year, that number was 92.

That surge in poaching has a simple explanation.

“People are catching, you know, sometimes up to five, six, seven, maybe even 10 times over the limit [of fish],” said DWR Operations Captain Chad Bettridge. “The bulk of these numbers are illegal fish. In fact, almost 80% of them.”

Bettridge said the uptick in overfishing has been especially common in community ponds that are regularly stocked with fish. According to 2022 fishing regulations, a two-fish limit is in place at all 52 community fishing areas in Utah.

Utah has seen record hunting and fishing license sales since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and community ponds are designed to get more people outdoors. According to the DWR, most Utahns live within a 30-minute drive of one.

“Most of these ponds are located in parks, so there is good access with parking areas and trails,” said DWR Sportfish Coordinator Randy Oplinger. “Many also have fishing piers and benches, making it an easy place to go fishing with kids."

Despite the uptick, Bettridge said the majority of these cases are accidental. People are unfamiliar with current regulations and unknowingly break the law.

In one instance in Washington County, Bettrige said someone was cited for taking over 20 fish from a community pond.

“In this case, I believe their plan was to take these fish home [to eat them], they just took too many of them,” Bettrige said. “Obviously, that’s why we have regulations in effect, that’s why we have limits to give the same opportunity for everybody to go out and do the same thing, and these people took too many.”

It is illegal to waste game animals in Utah, or kill without the intent of harvesting the meat or fur. Bettridge said hunters and anglers have a responsibility to know the current laws.

The DWR said the number of other animals that have been poached this year is similar to past years. Thirty nine big game animals have been killed illegally since Aug. 1 in 2022, down from 45 one year ago. The majority of illegal big game killings typically happen during the fall hunting season.

Big game seasons in Utah typically run from mid-August to mid-November, depending on the species and type of hunt.

“We see bigger cases and smaller cases,” said Bettridge. “It does fluctuate from year to year, but it is always a problem that we’re battling. It would be great if people followed the rules. Sometimes they don’t understand them, and sometimes they’re out to break them.”

The DWR relies heavily on the public to help report poaching. People are asked to contact the DWR if they observe suspicious activity or suspect someone of poaching.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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