Reporting Gigi Barnett
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The discovery of miles of illegal nets in the Chesapeake earlier this year has sparked a sweeping plan to crack down on striped bass poaching.
As Gigi Barnett reports, Natural Resources Police officers want to fast-track the proposal before the start of another fishing season.
Thirteen tons of illegally caught striped bass, also called rockfish, were found deep in Chesapeake Bay waters just as the season opened. It happened back in February. The catch temporarily shut down the season and sparked a firestorm of debate between legal watermen and Natural Resources Police.
“They’re just like people in the dope business. They show up and know where the cops are and what they’re doing. To me, they’re just as bad as that,” said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.
What the Department of Natural Resources needed was a clear-cut plan to track illegal nets and crack down on poachers. Now there’s a proposal in the works.
“This is as bad as it’s gotten. There’s some potential that there could be some nets out there,” said Mike Luisi, who runs the DNR Fisheries Division.
He says the new plan would boost fines for repeat offenders and require legal watermen to mark their nets and phone in their catch locations before and after they leave the docks.
But some fishermen say constant call-ins could be a problem because of low cell phone coverage in the bay.
“This is a new system for Maryland. We don’t have anything like this in place right now so we will be working on this,” Luisi said.
DNR police want the new measures approved and in place long before the start of the gill net season on Dec. 1.
DNR wants to complete the plan for approval by watermen next month.