- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

The Maryland division of the national Coastal Conservation Association is serving notice that it intends to see commercial fishing scofflaws prosecuted and convicted wherever and whenever possible.

The CCA/MD, as it is known, currently is asking its thousands of members to contact Dorchester County States Attorney Mike Maloney to let him know that they support vigorous prosecution of criminal and fishing violations that recently came to light during an undercover investigation of what is known as the Tideland/Terrapin Seafood case.

A letter from the CCA/MD says, "Court cases involving 87 defendants charged with concealing approximately 250,000 pounds of striped bass [rockfish], which were harvested and/or illegally checked in under another licensee's allocation, are currently being conducted in Dorchester District Court. While overall commercial striped bass allocations do not appear to have been exceeded, CCA/MD is concerned that the very data needed to effectively manage the striped bass recovering stock will be jeopardized by illegal activities."

The fish conservation group has also contacted the Maryland Natural Resources Police chief, John Rhoads, to let him know how much it appreciates and supports the NRP's efforts to bring fishing violators to justice.

(Incidentally, the Maryland NRP has an outstanding track record when it comes to gathering the necessary evidence to convict law breakers.)

The CCA further requests its members to contact Maloney to show their support for his office's aggressive prosecution. Maloney's address: Dorchester States Attorney, 502 Poplar Street, Cambridge, Md. 21613; phone 410/228-3611; fax 410/228-9867.

CCA/MD members also are urged to be at the courthouse in Cambridge, Friday at 9 a.m. to listen to defense lawyers' presenting what is known as suppression of evidence. The CCA wants observers there to show how serious it is about fishery violations and to support the Natural Resources Police.

This type of campaign clearly tells us that the CCA/MD is ready to go to bat to protect our fisheries.

It all started some years ago when the Florida CCA, sick and tired of commercial fishing abuses, managed to have a question put on a statewide referendum that asked for all commercial gill netting to be outlawed. Nobody back then thought that the measure would have a chance of passing. The commercial fishing industry, after all, was entrenched in the Sunshine State and carried considerable clout with legislators.

But guess what? When you have legislators who are in the pockets of the fishing industry, citizens can bypass them by asking the entire electorate to vote on a ticklish problem. All the under-the-table "donations" in the world can't alter a statewide referendum.

Seventy percent of Florida's residents voted to halt the gill netting. Money was allocated to buy out the watermen and their nets. The CCA waged war and won.

Can it happen here? The politicians in Annapolis had better listen and learn. If it happened in Florida, why not here? Although the delegates aren't thought to be gutsy enough to support a bill in the Maryland or Virginia legislature to stop the netters, perhaps the people will do it on their own, just as they did in Florida.

And when it happens the folks who manage our fisheries shouldn't complain. They're pushing the envelope. For example, it was no secret that Maryland's former tidewater fisheries boss, Pete Jensen, greatly favored commercial interests over the huge sport fishing community. Jensen finally got his walking papers and a DNR insider tells us that he now works as a consultant for the state's commercial fishing industry. No surprise there.

Also, the hopelessly outdated Potomac River Fisheries Commission will have a finfish advisory committee meeting tonight at 6:30 in its Colonial Beach, Va., offices to discuss opening a small-mesh gill net fishery during winter and summer in the tidal Potomac.

Can you believe it? Other states outlaw the gill netters, but the Potomac River managers hopelessly enchanted with commercial interests want to increase theirs. They couldn't possibly believe that their fish populations are in better shape than those of Texas, Florida and Louisiana three locations where gill netting nowadays are dirty words.

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