- Associated Press - Friday, March 17, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - The Department of Natural Resources plans to take pending state legislation to temporarily halt the contest-fishing of cownose rays and public comments about banning cownose ray tournaments in Maryland into consideration when it creates regulation to further administer the contests, according to a department representative.

A House version of the bill would create a two-year moratorium on cownose-ray contests until July 1, 2019, rather than permanently banning the contests. A similar Senate version would create a moratorium until July 1, 2018.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources is considering prohibiting the projectile equipment, including archery equipment, gigs, spears and spear guns, that is used in the contests from July 1 to Dec. 31, the period of time when the bay is primarily home to pregnant female cownose rays and cownose ray pups, according to Gregg Bortz, the public information officer for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Bortz told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service that the Department of Natural Resources plans to consider the state bills — both of which have passed their respective chambers with strong support — when they draft any new regulations for possible proposal in the spring.

The Senate version of the bill passed through the Senate unanimously on Feb. 13 and the House version passed through that chamber March 15, 119-21. Each would need to be passed by the opposite chamber — and differences would likely be hammered out — before either version could become law.

Both bills would require the Department of Natural Resources to create a cownose ray fishery management plan. The Senate bill would require the regulations to be made by Dec. 31, while the House version would require it by the same date of the following year.

Bortz said in addition to the public’s call to completely ban the contests, the department has other aspects to take into account, like the type of tournament equipment used.

“The information being considered is slightly different for each user group because the authority that the department has to regulate gear differs for recreational and commercial users,” according to Bortz.

The Save the Rays Coalition said in a Feb. 14 press release that cownose ray killing contests were cruel, unnecessary and harmful to the bay’s ecosystem. “The event is run merely for entertainment and prizes - cownose rays are rarely eaten,” the organization said in the report.

Mary Finelli, chairwoman of the Save the Rays Coalition, told Capital News Service Jan. 31 those in opposition of the ban are refusing to believe the science that the rays are an integral part of the bay. “There is only a small group of people who are in favor of these contests,” Finelli said. “It’s willful ignorance because this is how they have fun.”

Kurt Wall, who works with the American Bowhunters, gave written testimony in opposition of the Senate bill on Jan. 31 to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee and said this bill is based on emotions, not facts.

“Until there is scientific fact proving the loss of population of stingrays, I do not believe it is fair that bowfishing be shut down due to emotional reaction only,” Wall said. “What we propose is that we put a limit per person, per boat, per species of stingray.”

“The cownose ray contests are a blood sport that serve no legitimate purpose,” Collette Adkins, senior attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity, said in her written testimony to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee on Jan. 31.

“The cownose ray is listed as ‘near threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List,” according to Adkins.

Finelli said legislation creating a moratorium is a good first step, but Maryland still needs to fully ban the contests, according to the Save the Rays press release. “We look forward to DNR’s research into these intelligent creatures and are optimistic that their studies will result in a full ban of the contests,” she said.

The Senate version of the bill is expected to be heard in the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Mar. 22. and the House bill has been assigned to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee.

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