- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — A public hearing Wednesday concerning the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ proposal to open the Eastern Shore’s Nanticoke and Choptank rivers to commercial netting of yellow perch drew about 100 attendees, the majority of whom were sport fishermen who are against the plan.

While rivers in the upper Chesapeake Bay and along the western side of the Chesapeake do not have large numbers of tidal water yellow perch, the DNR claims there are massive schools of the fish in the two Eastern Shore rivers, prompting it to propose the reopening of the heretofore closed commercial netting season.

During an open microphone period, Ken Hastings, a member of the Coastal Conservation Association’s Southern Maryland chapter, chided DNR officials regarding what he said was improper perch management. He said his chapter raised perch from captured egg strands, stocked them in nearly barren St. Mary’s County creeks and then asked the DNR to protect those waters until the perch naturally reproduced and replenished the creeks with their offspring.

“You didn’t do that,” said Hastings, who added that the hard work of his chapter was ignored by the powers in Annapolis.

Hastings questioned the science employed by the DNR in reaching estimates of perch numbers in the Nanticoke and Choptank watersheds. He said the DNR biologists couldn’t possibly know how many perch were in those rivers.

“You can’t be proud of this proposal,” he said. “You can’t be. [Please] make the perch a no-sale fish.”

His remark was aimed at keeping the yellow perch out of fish markets.

Support for the commercial netting of the perch came from two members of the Maryland Waterman’s Association who pointed out that their way of earning a living has been going downhill for decades, and that the opening of a netting season in the two rivers in question would afford them an opportunity to make some money.

Netters insist the dearth of certain fish species is caused by the overdevelopment of shore properties, siltation and agricultural runoffs, but not overfishing.

At one point in the hearing Dennis Fleming, the president of the CCA/Southern Maryland, reminded Mike Slattery, assistant secretary of the DNR, how he’d earlier said he believed in a Jeffersonian democracy.

“Well, sir,” Fleming said. “You’ve seen our reaction to this proposal. Let’s see how you respond.”

Fleming meant that the people had spoken.

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