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 A man carrying rifle and backpackThe California Fish And Game Commission: Context And Background

Now that we’ve gotten some of the basics out of the way let’s dig in a little deeper into what exactly is the function of the California Fish and Game Commission. Understanding the role and authority of the Commission is essential when considering how to navigate the Commission’s processes and defend yourself in formal accusation proceedings. On top of this, seeing what you’d be up against in a hearing, diving in may even help you see how much of a nightmare dealing with the California Fish and Game Commission can be and further act as a deterrent.

The California Fish and Game Commission has a variety of roles relating to the protection and regulation of the take of fish and game. Of those roles, the most relevant to this discussion is how it assumes a quasi-judicial role in considering appeal hearings or administrative hearings for revocation or suspension of licenses and permits. The Commission plays a vital role in adjudicating disputes and making decisions regarding the status of licenses and permits.

It also prescribes terms and conditions for the issuance, suspension, and revocation of licenses and permits issued by the Department of Fish and Game. These terms and conditions help ensure compliance with state regulations and promote the sustainable management of fish and wildlife resources.

In addition to its quasi-judicial function, the Fish and Game Commission also has regulatory authority. It establishes regulations governing the protection and take of fish and wildlife throughout California. These regulations cover a wide range of topics, including hunting seasons, fishing quotas, species protection, and habitat conservation.

With this, the Commission oversees enforcement efforts related to fish and game regulations. It works in conjunction with state agencies and law enforcement to ensure compliance with wildlife laws and regulations, investigate violations, and take appropriate enforcement actions when necessary.

In essence, the California Fish and Game Commission determines whether action taken by the Department of Fish and Game is valid in administrative proceedings. It also determines whether to suspend or revoke fishing licenses and permits and hunting guide licenses, acting as the ultimate arbiter of whether a suspension or revocation will stand.

Administrative Hearings

The administrative hearing conducted by the California Fish and Game Commission serves to determine the validity of actions taken by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The process is somewhat involved and complicated, but I attempt to simplify it here.

After being contacted by the Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding a violation, wildlife officers typically submit a report to the local district attorney’s office, recommending criminal charges. The district attorney may choose to file criminal charges or pursue civil action under the Unfair Business Practice Act.

Apart from actions by the district attorney, the Department of Fish and Wildlife might seek to revoke or suspend commercial fishing permits and licenses or guide licenses in a hearing before the Fish and Game Commission. Normally, the Fish and Game Commission receives information about violations of the Fish and Game Code or Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations after civil or criminal proceedings conclude.

Usually, the Department of Fish and Wildlife serves the fisher with a formal accusation and a notice to respond, outlining the right to a hearing before the Fish and Game Commission. Upon requesting a hearing with a notice of defense, the Department of Fish and Wildlife must present evidence supporting the disciplinary action.

An administrative law judge appointed by the Fish and Game Commission presides over the hearing as a neutral officer. Once the proceedings commence, they follow the administrative process, with additional questions and actions arising accordingly.

You have a specific window to request the administrative hearing. Upon receiving the Notice of Suspension, you can request a hearing by filing a notice of defense with the Fish and Game Commission within 15 days of receiving the accusation. The accusation is the document filed by the department official and wildlife. Not filing a notice of defense forfeits your right to a hearing. If you opt out of a hearing, the Commission will proceed based on the accusation without holding a hearing and usually uphold any suspension or revocation requested by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

When accusations span multiple offenses over different occasions, the Commission usually consolidates them into a single hearing addressing all alleged misconduct. Drawing from my experience with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Commission, I’ve encountered cases where misconduct stretched over a decade. Despite the span of time, these cases were bundled into one accusation presented to the Fish and Game Commission. The goal in doing so is to revoke or suspend licenses or permits based on a comprehensive examination of the totality of the allegations.


After the Fish and Game Commission receives and serves the notice of defense — a formal request for a hearing — to the attorney representing the Department of Fish and Wildlife, you should expect communication from both entities. After submitting the notice of defense, the parties’ counsel provide dates of unavailability to the Commission once the Commission is provided with dates of availability.

Typically, a hearing is scheduled within six months of the fisher receiving the accusation. However, certain circumstances may necessitate more time between the accusation receipt and the hearing date. While six months is a standard timeframe, it often varies based on individual case dynamics.

These hearings, overseen by an administrative law judge — who remains impartial and independent from the Fish and Game Commission — are appointed by the Commission to serve as neutral fact-finders. Once the administrative law judge is assigned, the Office of Administrative Hearings sets the hearing schedule.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearings were held in designated state buildings in Oakland, Sacramento, or Los Angeles. Now, and for seemingly the foreseeable future, hearings are being held virtually throughout the state, eliminating the need for in-person appearances.

Representing Yourself

While a fisher or a license holder can choose to represent themselves at an administrative hearing, it is strongly recommended to enlist the services of an attorney well-versed in navigating administrative hearings. Such legal representation ensures familiarity with the unique procedures inherent in these proceedings, especially considering how much is on the line.

Although not standard practice, an attorney experienced in administrative proceedings may explore the possibility of negotiating a resolution without the need for a hearing. The decision to pursue negotiation sans hearing hinges on the specific permit in question and the alleged conduct. Additionally, if the hearing is expected to last four days or more, you’re entitled to a pre-hearing conference. During this conference, issues may be clarified, potentially allowing for more negotiation opportunities post-proceeding. Without an attorney, you’re unlikely to navigate these successfully.

For more information on Dealing With California Fish And Game Commission, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (415) 728-9982 today.

E. Michael Linscheid, Esq.

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(415) 728-9982

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