NRP Boosts Enforcement as Oystering Kicks into High Gear
10/31/2013 | Posted by kkingTags: Commercial, Oysters, NRP
New radar network provides 24-hour coverage
With the most active part of Maryland's six-month oyster season opening tomorrow, Natural Resources Police (NRP) is employing a three-pronged approach to catch poachers with stepped-up patrols on water and in the air augmented by the latest detection equipment.
"This Governor has a message for oyster outlaws: The days of playing cat-and-mouse games with conservation law enforcement officers are dwindling. We will find you and put you out of business," said Col. George F. Johnson, NRP superintendent.
Officers riding as observers in Maryland State Police helicopters will be covering vast swaths of water, looking for poachers working off-hours, doubling limits and harvesting in protected areas.
Before sunrise, saturation patrols will be blanketing oyster bars and sanctuaries known to attract illegal activities.
Helping to guide both efforts is NRP's newest weapon, a web of radar units and cameras called MLEIN - Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network. The state-of-the-art system allows land- and water-based officers to establish invisible "picket lines" around sites that alert them when protect areas are breached.
"MLEIN is a force multiplier, expanding our reach and acting as another set of eyes for our officers," Johnson said. "Make no mistake. We are always watching."
Johnson emphasized that citizens can play a vital part in the effort, too, by anonymously calling the Catch-A-Poacher hotline with tips: 800-635-6124.
State law permits power dredging from November 1 through the end of March in designated areas of Calvert, Dorchester, Somerset, St. Mary's, Talbot and Wicomico counties. Oysters must be a minimum of three inches. The daily limit for power dredging is 12 bushels per person, not to exceed 24 bushels per boat.
Historically, three-quarters of all citations issued by NRP are for undersized and unculled oysters. As the holidays approach, the demand for oysters increases, and with it, the temptation to satisfy the market.
"Law-abiding watermen who work long, hard hours to make a living find themselves being punished by poachers who care only for their own profit," Johnson said. "Enforcement helps level the playing field."
Over the past four years, the State of Maryland has toughened penalties for poaching. In 2011, Governor Martin O'Malley signed a sweeping law that included stricter penalties for both egregious first-time and serial offenders.
Enhanced enforcement is one of the goals of Governor O'Malley's 10-point Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan adopted in May 2010. In 2011, new the State passed new legislation to protect Maryland's fisheries and encourage shellfish aquaculture. As part of an overall focus on enforcement efforts to better protect Maryland's public fishery resources, DNR also established a tougher penalty system for commercial fishing violations. Last month, the Governor announced that a record 1.25 billion spat produced at the University of Maryland Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge had been planted, mostly in oyster sanctuaries, this year. These sanctuaries help rebuild the native oyster population and improve water quality.