Reporting Alex DeMetrick
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — One of the Chesapeake’s most prized catches is pitting watermen against sport fishermen.
Alex DeMetrick reports it all centers on striped bass and the net used to catch them.
Last year, when poachers illegally anchored their gill nets to the bottom of the bay, 12 tons of striped bass were lost. That cut into a federally set quota that shortened the season for honest watermen.
“It’s hurting us politically,” said Don Pierce.
“Senate Bill 1032 would prohibit the use of gill nets in Maryland waters,” said Saltwater Sportfishing Association Director Dave Smith.
Maryland’s Saltwater Sportfishing Association is backing the ban.
“They catch thousands of pounds of fish and they’re just terribly destructive,” said Smith.
“That’s not fair. There’s a lot of fishing out there for everybody,” said Larry Simns, Maryland Watermen’s Association President.
In winter, watermen who follow the rules use gill nets to catch striped bass, also called rockfish. When not anchored, watermen say fish too small or big are spared.
“We return the fish back live because we have to tend our nets, so it’s a very clean fishery,” Simns said.
If last year’s poaching is providing momentum for a gill net ban, what’s happening this year might slow that momentum down. With new tools and tougher laws, Natural Resources Police have seen poaching plummet.
“We haven’t found any nets this year,” said Natural Resources Police Cpl. Roy Rafter.
“There’s nothing else to catch so without rockfish, we don’t have any way of making a living,” Simns said.
Those supporting the ban say watermen could use other types of nets or hook and line to catch striped bass.