BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Even though the striped bass season is closed to honest watermen, it hasn’t stopped poachers from laying illegal nets.
Alex DeMetrick reports it also hasn’t stopped police from trying to find them.
Hitting the bay sometimes means exactly that. Still, Natural Resources Police patrol boats are working round-the- clock to break up poaching.
In the last few weeks, 11 tons of striped bass have been found in gill nets illegally anchored to the bottom.
The hot spot is in Eastern Bay.
“The fish would come up through the deep channel and turn right into Eastern Bay, and as you see, it narrows down considerably,” said Roy Rafter, Natural Resources Police. “So if you set nets across this deep section, then it’s just natural to catch all the fish as they come up through there.”
So that’s where police are setting their drag hooks, but it’s still a lot of water to cover.
“It’s just like fishing,” Rafter said. “You throw your hook over and sometimes you catch ‘em, and sometimes you don’t.”
Watermen who use legal nets aren’t catching any. Poaching closed the season early because the bay is the East Coast’s spawning ground, and only so many striped bass are allowed to be caught.
“So it’s not only important here, but the impact is felt up and down the East Coast, among all the recreational and commercial fisheries that are involved in other states,” said Art Windemuth, Natural Resources Police.
In the old days, poachers needed to mark their nets to find them. GPS technology has changed all that.
“With GPS, they don’t have to have buoys so you don’t have an indicator as to exactly where that net is,” Rafter said.
It’s believed police have secretly placed GPS devices on some watermen’s boats, but no suspects have yet been arrested.
There are leads, but police need more because experience and luck aren’t enough to snag all the nets or the poachers.
“If you see anything, if you know anything, please give us a call,” Windemuth said. “We need your help.”
As the magnitude of the poaching is revealed, a reward for the capture of the poachers has grown to more than $22,000.