The Washington Times - January 22, 2009, 01:38PM

Want to frustrate me completely? Want to make me nuts?

Catch a commercial fish thief who shows no regard for our natural resources, state or federal laws, conservation principles, or anything else. Then inform this scofflaw that he’s subject to a terrible fine: $250.


Yeah, right.

It drives me up a wall when I hear about such “nose-bleed” fines.

For example, a Maryland seafood processor recently was nabbed twice in a week and the Natural Resources Police confiscated almost three tons of rockfish that were aboard an 80-foot-long trawler which had been pulling nets.

It happened just a little east of Ocean City.

According to Sgt. Ken Turner, of the NRP, the violators were Jack Colbourne, who owns a seafood store in Secretary, Md., and two crew members, Mark H. Bryan and Bayard L. Taylor III.

But here’s what has me seeing red: the maximum fine, if the rockfish violators want to plead guilty and pay before the Feb. 22 Worcester County court date, is $250. If they appear in court and are found guilty by a judge, the fine climbs to $500. The last available information we could get said two of the men already paid a $250 fine; the third has not.

This same bunch was also arrested in late December and was found guilty of exceeding a 1,900-pound seasonal rockfish allotment by 138 pounds.

Imagine, netting rockfish illegally and paying only $250 for the offense. What the heck, people, it actually pays a thug to violate the state’s fishing laws. What’s the threat of a $250 fine when there’s a good possibility that you’ll get away with the fish and sell them for $5, $6, and $7 per pound, depending on the time of year and the place where you sell the fish.

Put me in charge of doling out fines — please!

For a first offense, the commercial netter would be fined $5,000. A second offense would bring a revocation of his commercial fishing license and he’d have to do some time in the hoosegow.

Watch how quickly the rockfish thefts would come to a halt.

Meanwhile, on occasion there are NRP officers checking out sport fishermen and if one of them has one or two fish that measure a half inch short of the minimum-required size, your fine might be nearly the same as the fellows who got nabbed with a bunch of illegal stripers.

I do not condone any fish violations — recreational or commercial — and I fully support handing out stiff fines, even jail sentences, for those who would ignore fish conservation laws. But where is the fairness in the way the state looks at various violations?

The state legislature can change all that, but I seriously doubt if enough legislators have the necessary courage to go up against certain colleagues whose sole concern is to protect fish netters of all stripes. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been. Can’t change tradition in a politically entrenched system that is not open to suggestions for change.

Shame on them.

- Gene Mueller