How your fishing and hunting can suddenly vanish

It’s hard to believe one sick cow could threaten a whole hunting season, but that nearly happened last May when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) banned Canadian cattle from being imported into this country. This followed the discovery of a single cow in Alberta with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease. But since the USDA’s ban included all ruminants or cud-chewing animals, it also suddenly became illegal for U.S. citizens hunting in Canada to bring back meat from wild deer, elk, moose, caribou, and sheep.

Fortunately, the USDA made a special exemption in August allowing hunters to import their big game from Canada. Hunters must fill out a special permit and have a copy of their hunting tag and can reenter the U.S. only at one of 17 ports of entry. If the meat is shipped back via air or land, the permit and a copy of the hunting license must accompany it. (To get the permit and a list of ports, contact the USDA at 301-734-3277 or

However, the Canadian ruminant ban is just one example of a recent trend. When a problem needs fixing, government agencies can act in such a heavy-handed manner that sportsmen get arbitrarily hammered (or with the ruminant ban, almost hammered), with hunting and fishing opportunities threatened or lost.

“We have thirteen game species that got snagged in that [original] USDA prohibition,” says Dale Drown, general manager of the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia. Before the ban was lifted, Canadian hunting guides were scrambling to come up with emergency plans, like renting freezers to store hunter-harvested meat.

But why ban all ruminates for a cattle disease? Dr. William Hueston, a former USDA scientist now heading the Center for Animal Health at the University of Minnesota, says that several species of ruminants in English zoos (including eland and kudu) became infected with mad cow in the 1990s, probably from contaminated feed. “That really raised the level of concern,” Hueston says. But in reevaluating the ban, USDA decided big-game species posed “no measurable risk.”


In April, that better-safe-than-sorry approach stopped all fishing in a 175-square-mile area at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of southern California, in order to help various marine species with dwindling populations. Janet Tennyson of the American Sportfishing Association says that even scientific studies find that the biggest threat to West Coast fish stocks comes from commercial fishing, yet recreational fishing was banned along with commercial operations. Meanwhile, the sanctuary might double the no-fishing zone; Washington, Oregon, and Florida are considering similar preserves. “If the problem is commercial harvest, the problem should be addressed for what it is,” Tennyson says, arguing that recreational anglers should not be punished.

Bill Horn, legal counsel for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, notes that recreational and commercial fishing were similarly lumped together at Dry Tortugas National Monument in Key West, Fla. When no-fishing was first discussed here, “it was supposed to be aimed at the commercial guys,” Horn says. Instead, authorities ended up banning all fishing in 2001.

Before he left office, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that created the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, a 1,200-mile-long network of reefs, shoals and tiny islands northwest of Hawaii’s main islands. Fishing? It is greatly restricted in many areas and completely banned in about 5 percent of the reserve. And that’s a lot, considering the reserve is about half the size of Texas!–Brian McCombie

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