Monday, February 8, 2016

MDDNR Cracks Down on Oyster Thief

Maryland Marine Police Crack Down on Oyster Poachers - Shellfish aquaculture’s rapid growth fuels theft along Atlantic coast
Aided by surveillance and underwater searches, Maryland authorities for the first time have brought felony theft charges in a case involving the poaching of farm-raised oysters.

The state’s fledgling shellfish aquaculture industry has grown rapidly, with the annual harvest more than doubling over two years to nearly 50,000 bushels last year. Officials want would-be thieves to think twice before nabbing the bivalves that private operators raise for sale.

“If you get caught, you’re not just going to get a ticket and go on your way,” said Lt. Col. Ron Ziegler Jr., acting superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police. He likened such thefts to someone breaking into a storefront and stealing merchandise.

Oyster farmers praised Maryland’s marine police for filing criminal charges. The poacher in that case raided numerous submerged cages near where the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, making off with more than 40,000 oysters.

Poaching is “pretty pervasive” up and down the Atlantic coast, said Bob Rheault, executive director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. The group represents the interests of 1,300 aquaculture farms from Maine to Florida, with an annual oyster and clam harvest last year valued at about $160 million. . .
There are a couple of big oyster farms down in St. Jerome's Creek, where Buzz's Marina is, near the mouth of the Potomac, so I'll guess that's where this happened.

Chesapeake watermen have a long history of banditry, stretching back to the "Oyster Wars" starting just after the Civil War. It's bad enough to take wild oysters small, or in banned areas, or using illegal equipment. But to steal oysters that people have planted and nurtured in cage systems is despicable. It's good to see MDDNR take this crime seriously.

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