Illegal Striped Bass Seizure Spurs Shut Down of February Gill Net Season

DNR, stakeholders offer reward for information leading to rockfish poachers’ arrest

Annapolis, MD (February 4, 2011) — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has shut down the February striped bass gill net season after Natural Resources Police (NRP) confiscated more than 10 tons of illegally caught striped bass in two days. NRP seized the 20,016 pounds of rockfish from four illegally anchored gill nets found near Bloody Point Light, south of Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay.

“Wanton illegal behavior cannot, will not be tolerated,” said Secretary John Griffin. “The people of Maryland have invested far too much time, effort and money into restoring striped bass, our State fish. These poachers are stealing from every Maryland citizen… including from our honest, hardworking watermen who follow the law. I particularly want to commend our dedicated Natural Resources Police officers, many of whom staked out the sites overnight, during terrible weather conditions.”

Maryland’s commercial striped bass fishery is managed on a quota system, in cooperation with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; the commercial gill net quota for February is 354,318 pounds. When the illegally harvested striped bass confiscated by the NRP were deducted from the quota, DNR was forced to immediately shut down the fishery. The fishery will remain closed until DNR can determine the extent of illegal nets out on the Bay and the amount of striped bass caught in those nets.

“Watermen are allowed to catch about 300 pounds of rockfish per day. We seized 20,000 pounds. That means these poachers are stealing 66 days of work from honest watermen,” said DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell.

The State, along with the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), The Maryland Watermen’s Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association and the Maryland Charter Boat Association, is offering a reward of more than $7,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a person or persons responsible for setting these anchored gill nets in the vicinity of Bloody Point Light. Funding for the reward will come from dedicated funding as well as contributions from these stakeholder groups, who are publicly denouncing these crimes.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates that illegal fishing that steals the resource from all Marylanders will not be tolerated,” said CCA Maryland Executive Director Tony Friedrich. “We look forward to working with the Department and other stakeholders to insure that the penalties for these types of crimes are strengthened and those responsible are held fully accountable.”

“The Maryland Watermen’s Association is here to protect the honest fisherman,” said Association President Larry Simns. “We’d like to do anything in our power to catch the person responsible for this and we’d hope they’d lose their license.”

“The Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association is extremely disheartened and outraged over the events of the past several days,” said Executive Director Dave Smith. “This type of flagrant disregard for the law and our vital resource must end. The MSSA is working with the Department and other stakeholder groups to put in place deterrents and meaningful consequences for these types of crimes.”

The NRP found the first anchored gill net on Monday, January 31 at 2 p.m., the day before the February striped bass gill net season opened. Officers began a surveillance detail and after 17 hours without activity officers pulled up the net, which was full of rockfish. Officers continued pulling the net and offloading the fish until 9 p.m., when 6,121 pounds of fish were taken out of the 900 yards of illegal anchored gill net; 400 pounds were given to state biologists for use in an expanded gender sampling survey, and 5,721 pounds were sold.

Officers located another net at about 9 p.m. near the first net and began to pull it up immediately. NRP continued to load the net and fish into patrol boats throughout the night. While loading the second net, officers found two additional nets. The NRP worked until 5 p.m. Wednesday evening, landing an additional 13,895 pounds of illegally caught fish.

Officers also recovered 2,100 yards of anchored gill net from the Choptank River on Sunday, January 30, and 100 yards of anchored gill net from the mouth of the Chester River on Thursday. These nets had a few fish that were released alive.

Information on this crime may be called into the Natural Resources Police Catch-a-Poacher Hotline at 800-635-6124. Callers may remain anonymous.

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According to the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, on Saturday, January 15th, 2011, the NC commercial trawling vessel “Jamie Lynn” from NC accidentally netted between 3 to 4 thousand Striped Bass. The haul was so large that the captain of the ship decided to “dump” or release all of the fish except the 50 he was legally allowed to keep.

Now this is the story that the NC DMF isn’t telling. That it was one boat, and an “isolated” incident. But that is not what seasoned commercial captains are saying. They are saying that this is a reoccurring event on the outer banks each winter, and that this year there were many more eyes on the water to witness it. Many of these captains are professional charter boat operators, and many have seen enough of the wanton waste that this trawl fishery produces!

In one pull, this trawler not only killed 50% of the allowable catch for trawlers, it also killed over 20% of the total allowable Striper harvest for all commercial methods!

Now the daily limit of 50 fish for these trawlers has been replaced with a 2,000 pound per day limit. Those 50 fish they were keeping must have weighed 40 pounds a piece? And what about the by-catch they can’t keep? The minimum size limit is 28 inches. How many 28 inch fish will be killed in the process? How much waste will be created by 10, 20, or 50 trawlers? Once again, NC fisheries management is the laughing stock of the entire nation. You have to laugh to keep from crying!http://cfrgnc.blogspot.com/2011/01/nc-striper-slaughter-untold-numbers-and.html

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries will replace the current 50-fish-a-day commercial trip limit, which has been in place for 15 years, with a 2,000-pound-a-day limit. Two-thousand pounds equates to 80 25-pound stripers, or 67 30-pound fish. However, the new rule would still require trawl fishermen to discard any fish that put them over the allotted poundage if they made a particularly large set.