Centreville Waterman Sentenced for Oyster Poaching

BALTIMORE (June 9, 2011)—Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced today that his Environmental Crimes Unit obtained criminal convictions on June 8, 2011, against a waterman for violations of natural resources oyster regulations in Queen Anne’s County. Joseph Walker Benton, 21, of Centreville, was convicted of the criminal misdemeanor offense of removing oysters from a sanctuary bed and commercial oystering without a license. The case was heard in the District Court for Queen Anne’s County by the Honorable Judge John Nunn.

The facts presented established that Cpl. Roy Rafter of the Natural Resources Police responded to the area of Sawmill Oyster Sanctuary on March 18, 2011, in response to a complaint about the defendant oystering in the sanctuary. Upon approach, Cpl. Rafter could hear the boat’s engine, as well as the sound of oysters being dropped on a culling table. Cpl. Rafter went to the area where Benton docks his boat, the “Marion” in Kent Narrows, and found Benton and his girlfriend on board. The officer observed multiple bushels of oysters in the vessel, which were wet from recent harvest. Benton admitted to the officer that he indeed had been oystering in the Sawmill Oyster Sanctuary. Cpl. Rafter further established that Mr. Benton did not have a license to oyster.

At sentencing, the Assistant Attorney General requested that fines of $1,500 be ordered to be paid by the defendant. Judge Nunn ordered the defendant to pay a fine of $1,000 for the offense of oystering in a sanctuary and a fine of $650 for oystering without a license. The defendant was further placed on 7 months’ probation. Judge Nunn noted to the defendant the seriousness of the offense, as it makes it impossible to restore the oyster population to preserve the future livelihood of watermen if individuals remove the oysters from the sanctuaries. Judge Nunn told the defendant that, if the defendant should come before him for a second offence of oystering in a sanctuary, and was convicted, that he would likely impose the maximum fines as well as the maximum incarceration for second offenders of 1 year in jail.

Oyster sanctuaries are important to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay as they serve a number of functions for habitat restoration. The sanctuaries provide a vital part of the ecosystem in improving water clarity, filtration and nutrient cycling. They also provide valuable reef habitat for crabs, fish, and other species, enabling them to proliferate and assist in the growth of our species populations for the future. Restoration of oysters and oyster reefs are considered essential to rehabilitation of the Chesapeake Bay; on-going problems with poaching and sanctuary violations are making a difficult task of improving our waterways and increasing our numbers of fish, crabs, and oysters much more difficult. The Office of the Attorney General takes violations of natural resources regulations seriously.

The Attorney General wishes to thank the Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Police, and Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney Lance Richardson for their assistance and cooperation in these cases.

Source: Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler

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