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A seagull perched on a pier, holding a fishing pole in its beakPreparing For A Fish And Game Commission Hearing

To adequately prepare for a Fish and Game Commission hearing, fishers, license holders, or their attorneys must diligently research and investigate the facts pertaining to each allegation in question. Whether facing a single accusation or potentially hundreds, you’ll need access to all evidence the government intends to present in their case. Collaborating with your attorney, you can construct a robust defense strategy based on the government’s evidence and any potential defenses against each allegation.

You’ll also need to disclose to the government any and all evidence you plan to use at your administrative hearing before the hearing. This includes any witnesses you intend to call and any documentary evidence.

As mentioned earlier, hearings lasting less than four days do not usually require a pre-hearing conference between the parties and the administrative law judge. However, in especially complex cases or those four days or more in length, a pre-hearing conference will likely be held. This conference involves the administrative law judge, attorneys from both sides, and the party holding the permit or license.

Gathering Evidence

Both you and your attorney should thoroughly assess any evidence that could challenge the government’s case, such as documents, photographs, and eyewitness accounts. Additionally, it’s important you craft a comprehensive defense for each allegation, outlining any mitigating factors related to the conduct, its occurrence, and reasons why it’s unlikely to happen again.

Your attorney will subpoena percipient witnesses, or individuals who directly observed the specific conduct, and any expert witnesses with pertinent expertise essential for educating the Fact Finder or ALJ. However, it’s your responsibility or that of your attorney to subpoena witnesses and any relevant documents that may originate from another governmental agency related to your permit or license under scrutiny. All necessary documents must be subpoenaed well in advance of the hearing.

At the administrative law hearing, the level at which these hearings occur, the burden of proof determines the standard by which the government must prove the charges. Typically, in cases involving fish and wildlife licenses or permits, the burden of proof is met by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not a 51% threshold. However, there is an argument for applying a higher standard of proof, known as clear and convincing evidence, especially for licenses involving greater training and skill. If the government fails to carry its burden, it may lose the administrative hearing on one or all allegations. Generally, the government bears the burden of proof and presents its case first.


Administrative hearings conducted by the Fish and Game Commission generally include a somewhat fixed process with several steps and expectations.

Hearings are held virtually with an administrative law judge, a lawyer for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the attorney for the respondent, licensee, or permit holder, all participating. The license holder or permit holder can appear at all aspects of the proceeding. There are witnesses, but they are only present while providing testimony.

Since the government is the plaintiff, it has the burden of proof. Because of this, it makes its case first. Department of Fish and Wildlife officers testify as to the specific conduct of each and every allegation. Expert witnesses usually testify on behalf of the Department regarding the significance of a particular species to the environment and the sustainability of the fishery in question.

The government also introduces documentary evidence during witness testimonies if it believes such evidence, such as specific permit or license applications, is necessary to prove its case. Additionally, the government submits photographs depicting encounters with the license or permit holder or their fishing gear. After presenting their case for each witness, the license or permit holder is given the chance to cross-examine each government witness. Cross-examination serves to scrutinize both the facts presented by the government’s witnesses and their credibility.

After the government presents all necessary witnesses to meet their burden of proof for each allegation, they will rest their case. Following this, the license or permit holder will have an opportunity to present evidence and testimony through witnesses. Often, it’s necessary for the license holder to provide character witnesses to demonstrate that despite any misconduct, they deserve to retain their license or to show rehabilitation and assurance against future misconduct. The license holder should also be prepared to testify about the alleged conduct so that the administrative law judge can consider their perspective.

Once the hearing concludes, both sides typically present arguments, whether written or oral. At this point, the matter goes under submission.

The duration of the hearing before the administrative law judge varies depending on the number and complexity of the allegations. Most hearings typically span one to two full days. However, cases with greater complexity may extend to three or more days. In my experience, the standard timeframe for a hearing involving a permit or license is around two days, although I have encountered hearings that lasted longer.

Factors At Play When Deliberating

When coming to judgment, the Fish and Game Commission actually lacks specific guidelines to follow. Neither the Department of Fish and Wildlife nor the Fish and Game Commission has developed specific guidelines. I’ve noticed that, in practice, many administrative law judges draw from other areas of the law. The Department typically considers several factors:

  • Nature, Circumstances, & Gravity of Violations: This includes assessing the severity and context of the violations.
  • Culpability of The Person: This involves determining the level of responsibility of the individual involved in the violations.
  • Injury to Natural Resources: Consideration is given to the extent of harm caused to the natural environment by the violations.

Additionally, administrative law judges may consider:

  • Extent of Adverse Effects: This includes evaluating the impact of the wrongful acts on affected parties or resources.
  • Recency or Remoteness of Acts: Acts occurring more recently may carry greater weight compared to those that happened many years ago.
  • Extenuating Or Aggravating Circumstances: Factors surrounding the conduct that may mitigate or exacerbate the severity of the violations.
  • Prior Discipline: Any history of prior disciplinary actions against the individual may be taken into account.
  • Evidence Of Rehabilitation: Efforts made by the licensee or permit holder since the conduct occurred that suggest a reduced likelihood of recurrence.

These factors help inform the decision-making process during administrative hearings and shape the overall assessment of the case, as well as its outcome.

For more information on Preparing for Fish and Game Commission Hearing, 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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