Friday, May 20, 2011

New Laws Increase Poaching Penalties

O'Malley Signs New Laws To Protect Fisheries
Senate Bill 635, sponsored by Senator Frosh and House Bill 1154, introduced by Delegate Jim Gilchrist, require the revocation of an individual’s commercial fishing license if they are found by an Administrative Law Judge to have knowingly committed an egregious or repeat violation against striped bass or blue crabs including: using illegal gear; harvesting during closed seasons; harvesting from a closed area; violating established harvest, catch or size limits; or violating tagging and reporting requirements.

Senate Bill 655, along with House Bill 1225, increase the penalty for engaging in commercial fishing with a suspended license, a revoked license or without a license, by establishing a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to one year. A higher fine and possible imprisonment will deter future violations resulting from fishing on a suspended commercial license.
The penalties for commercial poaching in Maryland have long been a joke.  Many watermen seem to consider them more akin to licensing fees than punishment.  The real question is whether watermen will be charged with these offenses, and if they are, whether they are going to sentenced to these fairly severe punishment by judges.
This year, NRP seized 10,825 yards of illegal anchored gill net, with 32,204 pounds of striped bass retrieved from these nets. This was the largest illegal poach seized in Maryland in decades. As a response, the General Assembly passed House Bill 1252, which establishes a new misdemeanor charge for the unlawful capture of over $20,000 worth of striped bass (as determined by the proceeds of the unlawful capture). The charge carries a penalty of up to than two years imprisonment.
That "as determined by proceeds of the unlawful capture" part concerns me.  In the case of the nets found recently, there would be no proceeds for selling those fish, as they were dead and worthless.  Would they count those at the current market price of striped bass, which varies considerably depending on the time of year and the the condition of the fish?  It takes a lot of dead fish to add up to $20,000 worth in most cases, although a few exceptional hauls might cross that mark.  Maryland defines theft of over $1000 worth of property or money as a felony with a penalty of up to 10 years in jail.  A misdemeanor and two years seems lenient for the theft of over $20,000 worth of public resources.

Three new bills were also signed to encourage oyster aquaculture:
Senate Bill 847 and House Bill 1053, introduced on behalf of the Governor, will streamline the aquaculture permitting process by consolidating and transferring several important aquaculture functions within one State agency. DNR will now coordinate all aquaculture permitting, issue water column leases, and staff the Aquaculture Coordinating Council and Aquaculture Review Board. Finally, House Bill 208 allows the Department to lease barren areas located within oyster sanctuaries for aquaculture.

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