- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Not everybody is convinced it will happen, but the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Fisheries Service appears to want to get tough with scofflaws in the commercial fishing industry.

Something had to be done given the recent arrests of a number of commercial netters who exceeded striped-bass catch limits, ignored legal seasons and/or failed to report properly the number of fish that were trapped and sold.

With that in mind, the Fisheries Service proposed a new penalty system, hoping it will put a stop to the poaching violations. Included in the proposal will be penalties for first-time offenders, but the punishment can vary depending on the severity of the offense. There also will be new rules for repeat offenders.

“These valuable and fragile marine resources are part of the public trust,” DNR secretary John Griffin said. “They belong to all citizens, and we must protect them from those who would willfully break the law.”

A number of sport fishermen don’t believe the DNR will get tough with commercial scofflaws.

“Nothing will change until the DNR permanently revokes commercial fishing licenses,” southern Maryland sport angler Jack Reeves said. “Until then, the lawbreakers know they can get away with a lot because there aren’t enough Natural Resources Police patrolling our waters.”

The way the current law reads, a waterman’s tidal fish license cannot be suspended unless the licensee has been convicted of at least three violations on separate days in a two-year period. The DNR said this system has not been a good deterrent; last year, 1,670 of the 3,940 tidal fish-license holders who actively fished (42 percent) received a citation for violating the law.

The 2009 general assembly enacted Chapter 453, which “requires enhanced administrative penalties for tidal fish license holders who repeatedly violate the law or who violate laws intended to protect aquatic species of special concern, such as blue crab, oysters, and striped bass.”

There will be a three-tiered point system and penalties. It starts with five points for Tier I violations, resulting in no immediate suspension. Tier II violations are intended to punish those who affected a resource that needs special protection; they will result in 10 points and a 30-day license suspension. A Tier III conviction means the licensee seriously harmed a fishery or has shown an intent to break the law; it calls for 15 points and a suspension for up to 60 days.

What is notable is the DNR is saying any commercial licensee who accumulates points for a number of convictions in a two-year period risks longer suspension and eventual revocation. Revocation is the magic word. If the agency sticks to it, you’ll see results.

Public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday at the Talbot County library in Easton and at 6 p.m. on Dec. 13 at the Tawes State Office Building in Annapolis.

Famous fly angler visits - World renowned fly angler Lefty Kreh will be the special guest at Wednesday’s meeting of the Maryland Saltwater Sport Fisherman’s Association’s District chapter in Bethesda. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. The public is invited, and it’s free.

Kreh, a native Marylander who has fished the world over, will talk about fly-fishing the Chesapeake Bay. For additional information, e-mail president@dcmssa.org.

Trout Unlimited club meets - Want to learn how to catch steelheads? The Seneca Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited will have a special program about it at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Izaak Walton chapter club house in Germantown. For more information, go to senecavalleytu.org or call 301/972-1645.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.