OLYMPIA - Fair's fair. While there's some truth in the old saying that "ignorance of the law is no excuse," it's just as true that mistakes by otherwise honest and well-meaning citizens shouldn't end up throwing them out of work.

But that's exactly what can happen right now in the commercial-fishing industry. A fisher faces possible license-suspension for a mistake made without any intent to buck the system or subvert legitimate rules.

State Reps. Brian Hatfield and Brian Blake are sponsoring bipartisan legislation (House Bill 1057) calling for a license-suspension-review committee to give relatively minor violators a chance to explain their circumstances.

On Jan. 23, the legislation received its first public hearing in the House Fisheries, Ecology and Parks Committee of which Hatfield is a member.

Parties involved in helping write the bill are putting the finishing touches on a new draft. A final proposal could be ready for a committee vote as soon as next week.

"Fishing regulations are so complex and hard-to-understand that it's only right to provide otherwise law-abiding people an opportunity to tell their side of the story - before their commercial-fishing license is taken from them," said Hatfield, D-Raymond, who is prime-sponsoring the proposal.

"There's already plenty of uncertainty and hardship in the industry as it is without the state piling on," he added. "If they lose their license, they can lose their business - and in some cases they can lose everything they have."

Blake, D-Aberdeen, said the bill specifically directs that the suspension-review committee isn't intended to overlook serious violations.

"It says very clearly in the bill that commercial fishers who willfully do things that hurt the fishery will still face very serious consequences," stated Blake, who is one of the measure's co-sponsors.

"We have no intention in our legislation of letting anyone slide who genuinely deserves punishment," he said. "It hurts everyone in the industry when someone commits a heinous violation. But our proposal isn't talking about those people - we're talking about minor violations by honest folks who made a minor mistake."

The license-suspension-review committee would be made up of five volunteer members, including three members who themselves possess a commercial-fishing license.

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