ANNAPOLIS (May 9, 2009) This week, Governor Martin OMalley (D) signed three new bills into law which will impose more serious penalties for fishing law violations in Maryland.
Poaching and other illegal fishing activity amounts to stealing the valuable natural resources that are critical to maintaining healthy rivers and bays. This legislation establishes much needed, more timely and consequential penalties that are necessary to prevent theft from and harm to the resources we hold in the public trust, said Governor OMalley.
House Bill 1355 will allow DNR to apply a reasonable commercial license suspension or revocation when someone is convicted of violating a commercial fishing law. Prior to enactment of this legislation, DNR could not suspend a commercial fishing license unless an individual incurred multiple convictions over two to five years. The bill does away with the need to first consider the frequency of convictions, as well as the need to first consider multiple convictions before a suspension or revocation can take place. This will provide a more serious consequence for fishing law violators, whose current penalty is generally a minimal fine, which in most cases is not a sufficient deterrent.
"As legislators, we continually hear about the need to reduce the decimation of the Bay, said Delegate Steve Lafferty, who sponsored House Bill 1355. This is an important step to reducing the illegal takings that are reducing our legal fisheries. I am more than pleased to work with the Department to address this problem."
House Bill 1419 was borne from recommendations of the Task Force on Fisheries Management. The bill will increase the maximum allowable fine upon conviction from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and from $1,000 to $2,000 for a second or subsequent violation of fisheries law. These fines have not been increased since their adoption in 1973. The bill also allows the DNR to impose restitution or other monetary penalties on a person convicted of violating certain fisheries laws and authorizes the DNR to establish a list of monetary and ecological values for aquatic species. Restitution paid will be used for replacement, habitat management, or enforcement programs for fish or protected species.
Our task force knows that good fisheries management requires effective enforcement, said Tom Lewis, Chairman of the Task Force on Fisheries Management. We are pleased with DNRs success in following through with our recommendations for additional legislation. These bills will help strengthen and rationalize the enforcement tools available for fisheries violations.
Senate Bill 164 was also developed from recommendations of the Task Force on Fisheries Management. This legislation gives DNR consistent authority to suspend recreational fishing privileges across both tidal and non-tidal waters. A clearer, more consistent process will promote compliance with fishing regulations, give DNR greater enforcement tools and send a clear message to the public about the process of fishing license suspension.
Violating the law is a crime and should be treated as such, whether the theft is bushels of oysters or blue crabs or a television or stereo, said DNR Secretary John Griffin. The enactment of these bills provides an additional measure of protection to our aquatic resources by discouraging violators who would intentionally abuse them.
Governor OMalley established the 17-member Task Force on Fisheries Management, comprised of scientists, recreational anglers, watermen, charter boat captains and conservationists, in November 2007. The Fisheries Management Reform Act (Senate Bill 1012) charged the Task Force with developing new strategies to better manage Marylands valuable fishery resources and develop recommendations for methods to improve, modernize, and streamline fishery management.
Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)