Enforcement Patrols, Poaching Investigations Intensify
ANNAPOLIS (February 22, 2011) With an estimated 200,000 pounds of the States February quota remaining, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will reopen the February striped bass gill net fishery on Friday, February 25, and Monday, February 28; all normal harvest restrictions will remain in effect. The fishery has been closed since February 4, after 10 tons of illegally captured rockfish were confiscated from the Chesapeake Bay south of Kent Island. In all, 12.5 tons of illegally captured rockfish have been found by Natural Resources Police this month.
While we continue to aggressively search, we have not found any additional illegal gill nets since last Wednesday, and at this time, we are not sufficiently close to the quota to justify penalizing the honest watermen who depend on this fishery during the winter months, said DNR Secretary John Griffin. That said, those who continue to violate the public trust should be forewarned: We will be stepping up patrols on the water and at check stations as we continue to vigorously investigate these crimes. And, once apprehended, we will prosecute these offenders to the fullest extent of the law.
Marylands commercial striped bass fishery is managed on a quota system, in cooperation with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; commercial and recreational restrictions are used to keep the harvest at or below a target fishing mortality rate. Marylands commercial gill net quota for February is 354,318 pounds; the States annual commercial quota is 2 million pounds.
Our record on fisheries management should reassure our citizens, stakeholders and partners that we would not be not be taking this action if we thought it might threaten the resource, continued Secretary Griffin. Under the leadership of Governor Martin OMalley, Maryland has been consistently conservative in its approach to managing the States fishery resources including blue crabs, oysters, yellow perch, snapping turtles, terrapins, menhaden, horseshoe crabs and river herring.
An independent survey outside of commercial harvest reports is used to inform managers when the harvest exceeds the sustainable fishing mortality rate, explained DNR Fisheries Director Tom OConnell. With peak daily gill net catch rates of 70,000 pounds per day, and a norm of 50,000 to 60,000 pounds per day, a two-day opening is very conservative. We do not expect that this action will cause either the February gill net quota or the annual commercial quota to be exceeded. In the unlikely event the February quota is exceeded, or if additional illegal gill nets with fish are found, the overage will be deducted from the December gill net quota.
During these two days, Natural Resources Police operations will be stepped up significantly through increased patrols, additional staff at check stations, and the use of our new electronic monitoring capabilities, said Col. George Johnson, Natural Resources Police Superintendent.
On February 1, Natural Resources Police confiscated the first of four illegally anchored gill nets with more than 20,000 pounds of striped bass near Bloody Point Light, south of Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay, forcing the immediate closure of the fishery. On February 11, NRP located additional illegally anchored gill nets containing 3,879 pounds of rockfish nets officers believe were set after the shut down of the fishery on February 4. Legal sized fish were sold to wholesalers and under and over-sized fish were donated to help feed citizens in need.
Through the extraordinary response of partners and the public, DNR is now offering a $30,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the striped bass poaching activities uncovered on January 31-February 1. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Savers, Maryland Charter Boat Association, Maryland Coastal Conservation Association, Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermans Association Maryland Watermens Association, and private citizens have all contributed toward the reward.
Throughout this extremely unfortunate situation, we have been heartened by the support of our stakeholders and citizens, continued Secretary Griffin. I would like to challenge other groups to follow their lead, act responsibly and work on behalf of those they represent, those whose livelihoods are threatened by these crimes.
State Senator Brian Frosh has already introduced a bill that would allow DNR to revoke a license for a specified offense related to unlawfully taking striped bass or crabs. DNR is stepping up law enforcement operations and working with stakeholders to develop and propose further regulations and increased penalties to better address under-reporting of harvest at check stations and illegal markets for untagged and unchecked striped bass, in addition to the use of illegal gill nets.
Information on these crimes can be called into the Natural Resources Police Catch-a-Poacher Hotline at 800-635-6124. Callers may remain anonymous.
Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)