Maryland DNR Announced today it was halting the spring gill net fishery because the large amount of illegally harvested fish recently intercepted made it impossible to determine whether or not the quota set aside for that portion of the fishery:
Maryland’s commercial striped bass fishery is managed on a quota system, in cooperation with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; the commercial gill net quota for February is 354,318 pounds. When the illegally harvested striped bass confiscated by the NRP were deducted from the quota, DNR was forced to immediately shut down the fishery. The fishery will remain closed until DNR can determine the extent of illegal nets out on the Bay and the amount of striped bass caught in those nets.The Maryland Watermen's Association was quick to denounce the poachers and support the closure:
“Watermen are allowed to catch about 300 pounds of rockfish per day. We seized 20,000 pounds. That means these poachers are stealing 66 days of work from honest watermen,” said DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell.
The State, along with the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), The Maryland Watermen’s Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association and the Maryland Charter Boat Association, is offering a reward of more than $7,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a person or persons responsible for setting these anchored gill nets in the vicinity of Bloody Point Light. Funding for the reward will come from dedicated funding as well as contributions from these stakeholder groups, who are publicly denouncing these crimes.
Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said closing the season "is the right thing to do. We don't want to go over quota and until we know how many fish have been taken illegally, it's the safest thing to do."I was very pleasantly surprised to see DNR issue the closure. I was pretty sure that DNRs response would be to shrug, and perhaps deduct the 20,000 or so from the 354,000 quota, at worst. The closure should put pressure on the watermen to police their own ranks, and get the issue of rampant poaching under control. The commercial industry in Chesapeake Bay has long been known to have a lawless element that see regulations as nuisances to be worked around. With all the gill net fishermen suffering for the sins of a few, I expect they well start to do some self policing.
At the same time, I fully expect a lobbying effort to commence by next week to convince DNR that the poaching was limited to the three nets already found, and that they should be allowed to fish immediately with that 20,000 deducted from the quota. After all, them boys is owed them fish.
Below is a video from the Baltimore Sun, a reporter interviews DNR hunting for more nets.