Thursday, March 13, 2014

Maryland Oyster Poachers Caught, Wrists Slapped

In the first major courtroom test of the Maryland Natural Resources Police’s newest enforcement tool, two Somerset County watermen were found guilty March 10 of harvesting oysters from a state sanctuary.

Officers used the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network, a radar and camera system, on Nov. 25 to track a vessel moving in and out of the Somerset Sanctuary in Tangier Sound. They subsequently charged William Cloyde Catlin and Irving Lee Catlin with dredging in the protected area.

District Judge Paula Price ordered the vessel’s captain, William Catlin, 64, of Upper Fairmount, to pay a $1,000 fine — $550 above the preset fine — and the mate, Irving Catlin, 55, of Westover, to pay a $450 fine. She gave them 30 days to appeal.
That may even be a higher fine than they stood to make by selling a day's worth of illicit oysters, but if so, not by too much.

But Maryland watermen getting busted for poaching is old hat, the interesting part is how the fish cops used their new toys to catch them:
The incident began shortly after 8 a.m., when an officer on land watched on his laptop as the Catlins crossed the boundary of the sanctuary, which is set aside by the state for oyster replenishment. The officer moved to his patrol boat to intercept them, all the while tracking their path on MLEIN.

During four passes inside the sanctuary, the watermen’s boat motored in a circular pattern, indicative of an oyster dredging operation. The officer sped to the location as the workboat attempted to flee the sanctuary with its dredge still in the water.

Natural Resources Police were able to retrieve the data from MLEIN that was used as evidence.
MLEIN is an advanced radar detection system  recently deployed in the Chesapeake Bay for law enforcement and boating safety.
The Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network allows Natural Resources Police dispatchers in Annapolis to track and intercept suspicious vessels and speed assistance to boaters in distress.

Dispatchers can draw an electronic "picket line" around a sensitive area such as the liquefied natural gas terminal in Calvert County, a cruise ship approaching the Inner Harbor or an oyster sanctuary near Tilghman Island. A vessel entering the area will trip an alarm and automatically activate cameras.

The radar can detect a 3-foot-square object seven miles away. The cameras have a range of three to five miles.
So, when you're out on the Bay, remember to smile; you're on Candid Camera!

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