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Facebook photo lands local fisherman in hot water

ERIN JAMES
YorkDispatch

Be careful what you fish for.

Juan Arevalo is learning that lesson the hard way thanks to a voracious bass and a Facebook photo.

It was the first weekend in June, and the York man and a friend had planned to hook some catfish at what Arevalo called a "fisherman's paradise" near the banks of the Susquehanna River in York Haven.

On the end of his line, a large fish struggled. Standing about 15 feet above the water on a platform, Arevalo reeled in a 21- or 22-inch bass.

"That was the biggest bass I've ever caught," Arevalo said.

A lucky bass: But Arevalo knew it was illegal to catch bass at that place at that time. The fish had to go back to the water.

As Arevalo worked to pull a double hook from the fish, his friend snapped a picture of a smiling Arevalo holding the wide-mouthed bass.

"And I chucked him in the water," Arevalo, 38, said.

A few weeks later, Arevalo posted the photo to Facebook. In fact, he made it his profile picture.

Just a few days later, Arevalo received a certified letter telling him he's been cited for illegally catching a fish.

Arevalo is convinced the photo got him in trouble. Perhaps a fellow fisherman turned him in, suspecting he'd kept the bass.

If someone had been at the scene of the alleged crime, "Well, then they saw me throw it back," Arevalo said.

No limits: Eric Levis, spokesman for the state Fish & Boat Commission, said he couldn't release any details about Arevalo's citation because the case is still active.

"But I can say in general that photographs are used to initiate investigations," Levis said.

As social media continues to expand its influence in daily life, "it only makes sense that we'd be seeing more investigations initiated from photos that we might see on there," he said.

That's not to say there's someone on the commission payroll spending 40 hours a week looking for Facebook photos of fishy activity, Levis said.

However, the public sometimes alerts the commission to alleged illegal activity documented on social media, he said.

"We don't have an officer that does that full time," Levis said.

Reeling it in: Arevalo said he plans to fight the citation, which could cost him a $120 fine, because he believes he complied with the law by tossing the fish back.

If state officials want to prevent fishermen from taking bass out of the water even for a few minutes, then the Fish & Boat Commission needs to reach a difference audience, Arevalo said.

"You gotta tell the bass 'Don't bite that bait' then," he said.

From now on, Arevalo said, he'll be keeping his fish tales off of social media.

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.