The Virginia Marine Police will combat oyster theft by air, land and sea in an intensive effort to crush what has become an epidemic of poaching. The public oyster season opened Oct. 1.Revocation is a good start for egregious offenders. Chesapeake watermen have a long history of lawlessness, stretching back to the Oyster Wars of 1882. Strong penalties will help only if the enforcement matches the threat.
“We mean business. We will vigorously pursue anyone who violates the oyster regulations, and we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” said Virginia Marine Police Chief Rick Lauderman. “Stealing oysters from the public oyster grounds, private leased grounds or from oyster sanctuaries in particular will not be tolerated. Oyster poaching in Virginia will stop.”
A number of Marine Police officers have been dedicated to search for oyster violations as their top priorities. An airplane will prowl the skies, patrolling for suspicious activity on both public and privately leased oyster grounds. Other techniques and equipment will be used as well.And the Virginia Marine Resources Commission comes armed to this fight with a renewed commitment to revoking violators’ commercial fishing licenses and with a new tool: Revocation of all saltwater fishing privileges, as allowed by a new state law that went into effect on July 1.
Still, what the Chesapeake wild oyster populations really need is a break from fishing pressure altogether. Give them a 5 year, or better yet, a 10 year break from harvesting, and find out if they're capable of rebounding in the Bay as it exists now.