The Washington Times - April 6, 2009, 11:24AM

A few months ago the Maryland Natural Resources Police arrested three Kent County watermen and charged them with a number of serious commercial fishing violations. The men had been observed by NRP officers during the pre-dawn hours as they worked with gill nets in the Chester River. They were after striped bass, better known as rockfish in Maryland.

The NRP charged each individual with fishing for stripers with gill nets during a restricted time; unlawful use of anchored gill nets; improperly marking of the gill nets, and unattended gill nets.

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As a result, Daniel L. Dierker, 30, William M. Ashley III, 30, and Anthony Vandewal, 42, all of Rock Hall, were found guilty of those charges in Kent County District Court.

But that’s pretty much where it ended. For some reason, the judge didn’t think some of the fellows involved in the fishing crimes deserved serious punishment. Ashley and Vandewal received a meager $300 fine and that was it.

Dierker didn’t fare as well, because he failed to obey a lawful order by the arresting officer and when he cut a line that was attached to an anchor at the end of one of the nets, he also was charged with “littering upon the state waters,” not to mention the illegal possession of 385 pounds of striped bass and a number of other violations.

Dierker was sentenced to 14 days in the Kent County Detention Center and fined a total of $500.

That was it.

This case was only one of dozens like it over the years and despite the hard work of the Natural Resources Police, somehow the state’s judges rarely treat commercial fishing violations as seriously as they should.

For example, can anyone recall a judge permanently — or for a number of years — revoking the commercial fishing licenses of repeat offenders? It simply doesn’t happen.

When the potential earnings from the sales of illegally-caught rockfish far exceed the possible fines that are levied by the courts, why wouldn’t certain rogue watermen think breaking the law is worth the risk?

The state of Maryland, one of the prime movers and shakers when it comes to commercial striped b ass fisheries, is in bad need of judicial reform as concerns rockfish violations. For crying out loud, if a recreational angler is caught with one illegal rockfish, the fine could be nearly as high as some of those levied against commercial netters who might be nabbed with many hundreds of illegal fish.

Where is the fairness in all this? And why is it that not more outrage is shown by state  legislators?

The threat of permanent revocations of commercial fishing licenses would be a step in the right direction for Maryland, as well as other rockfish states including Virginia and North Carolina, if they are serious about protecting a precious resource.

- Gene Mueller