An editorial in the Balmer Sun: It's Just Fish
That, according to reporting by The Sun's Catherine Rentz, is the attitude of many on Tilghman Island about the jail sentences handed down to some of those involved in a massive 2011 poaching operation. Everybody's doing it, the local thinking goes, so what's the big deal?A few stiff sentences may actually make the outlaw watermen of Chesapeake Bay think twice. I doubt poaching, either commercial or recreational will ever be entirely eliminated, but making it sufficiently expensive will help a great deal. Also, as the new "electronic" surveillance system in the Bay will make it harder to get away with it.
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As Ms. Rentz reported, William J. "Billy" Lednum recently reported to federal prison to serve his year-and-a-day sentence stemming from a single poaching incident so huge that it prompted regulators to cut Maryland watermen's 2011 rockfish quotas by 5 percent. His co-conspirator, Michael D. Hayden Jr., is due to be sentenced this week. Their two helpers, Kent Sadler and Lawrence "Danny" Murphy, have both also received stiff sentences — fines and restitution plus 30 days in jail for Mr. Sadler, probation for Mr. Murphy.
What they did was to set illegal anchor nets in the bay out of season — so many nets and so early that they were filled with more than 10 tons of rockfish when National Resources Police began pulling them up on the first day of the February 2011 season. It took authorities four boats, including a 73-foot icebreaker, to haul all of it away. Officials closed the February gill net season after only eight days and reopened it for just two days at the end of the month. In all, regulators found about 13 tons of poached fish that month, a haul so egregious that it prompted tough new regulations on commercial fishing, including requirements that boats report when they leave and return to dock, increased audits and stiffer penalties for violations.
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Poaching represents a real threat to efforts to understand the dynamics of the rockfish population and to set appropriate and sustainable levels for its harvest. Unless scientists know with some accuracy how many fish are being taken, they cannot fully understand how the population responds to management. Thus, the more fishermen evade the catch limits, the less successful efforts to allow the rockfish population to restore itself will be, and the stricter regulations will become.
Watermen may complain that government regulators are trying to stamp out their way of life, but it's actually people like Messrs. Lednum, Hayden, Sadler and Murphy — and those who encourage and abet them — who are doing that. Tilghman Islanders may find it shocking that people are going to jail over some fish, but it's quite clear that nothing else has gotten their attention. Messrs. Lednum and Hayden had been fined more than 20 times between them, and their poaching only got bolder. Unfortunately, from the sound of things, the message still isn't getting through. We certainly hope it does before poachers force the bay's striped bass fishery to shut down again.