BALTIMORE (WJZ) — They cheat and steal, while those who play by the rules are being hurt. Poachers on the Chesapeake have taken so much fish that their actions have triggered drastic action by the state.
Alex DeMetrick reports it’s going to hit honest watermen right in the wallet.
Watermen who use gill nets the right way — to legally catch striped bass — have been dreading this day. The season is ending early.
Poachers’ illegally anchored nets snagged 10 tons of striped bass this week. That poaching cut into the allowed quota for the season — a fixed number set to protect the species because all striped bass on the East Coast are spawned in the bay.
A closed season now hurts those who fish by the rules.
“They’re stealing from the other watermen,” said Maryland Watermen’s Association President Larry Simns. “We’re on a quota system, and if you catch the quota up before I get a chance to get it then you took my living away from me.”
So far, Natural Resources Police have only found the illegal catch, not the poachers. To make arrests, they are asking for help.
“We’re looking for eyewitness type situations or conversational types of situations that would connect people to the crime,” said Col. George Johnson IV, Superintendent NRP.
The hunt for eyewitnesses, or at least names, is never easy. In the past, tips often lacked hard specifics.
“If they’ve got somebody next to them doing wrong, they won’t tell you exactly who it is, but they will give you a little bit of information,” said Robert Kersey, NRP.
But given the impact this massive poaching is having on other watermen, information might be more forthcoming. There’s only a handful of people doing it, but they’re getting a jump on everybody.
To help police secure that information, a $6,000 reward is being offered.
“We want you to come forward,” said Joe Gill, DNR assistant secretary.“We can only do this with the help of the watermen’s community.”
Even so closing the season to honest watermen is no guarantee it will stop poachers.
Poaching that closed the gill net season could also affect the sport fishing season later this year, if poachers continue to take large numbers of striped bass.