- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The time has come to seriously question the sanity of Maryland fisheries officials. I never would have believed it possible the Department of Natural Resources would cave in to demands that the state’s fishing laws be changed to accommodate a commercial operator. But that’s precisely what is being done and all for the sake of promoting tourism and letting local businesses earn a few extra bucks.

A for-profit out-of-state fishing tournament organization, the FLW, recently approached the DNR to ask if it was OK to conduct a rockfish tournament that would allow the contestants to cull rockfish — to throw back a smaller fish, kept in a container of some sort, the moment a bigger one was caught.

What’s wrong with this scenario? It is against Maryland fishing laws to keep striped bass alive with the idea that the fish can be culled if a bigger specimen be hooked. Get it? It’s against the law and anybody caught doing it is subject to a fine, perhaps loss of fishing privileges.

Well, apparently it’s only against the law for Marylanders and the many Virginians who visit Maryland waters this time of year to chase after a striper. But the DNR has agreed to look the other way when a money-making contest operator asks that the law be bent.

“I am outraged that the state of Maryland prohibits me from culling rockfish, but will let some out-of-state organization that operates purely on the basis of avarice and greed, be exempt from the law,” said local fishing guide and licensed charter boat captain Andy Andrzejewski. “They don’t have to pay for a charter boat license like I do, either.”

The Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association (MSSA) has also expressed its concern, pointing out that FLW events are big in southern waters where the target species primarily are largemouth bass and redfish. But now, the MSSA says, “The FLW Tournament Trail has expanded [its] southern tournaments for redfish to include East Coast striped bass.

“Trying to satisfy the request to conduct this tournament in Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources wants to make a drastic change in Maryland’s striped bass regulations. This tournament is a catch and release tournament that allows culling of fish. Maryland regulations state that you cannot cull striped bass in Maryland waters. It is our opinion that the FLW was well aware of our regulations on culling and purposefully applied for an application to circumvent a striped bass tournament at the last minute causing the Department to ask for an emergency regulation approval. The FLW skirted the normal process for public hearings on changes to the striped bass regulations.”

The MSSA also asks if it is fair for Maryland residents who buy fishing licenses to not have the same opportunities to cull fish just like DNR has proposed for FLW tournament participants?

Here’s what the director of the state’s Fisheries Service, Howard King, told my colleague and friend Jim Kundreskas when he asked King why the state shouldn’t tell the FLW to go get lost:

“We were requested to permit the live release format of the FLW tournament series this fall. The Department has permitted a 1-day tournament on Nov. 4, 2006, out of the Hyatt on the Choptank River that allows the holding of live striped bass on board boats fitted with special support tanks to transport the fish to the weigh-in dock and then release the fish back into the water unharmed at locations specified by the Department,” King said.

“The holding tanks permit the exchange of one live fish for another live fish. No boat can have more than two fish on board and no dead fish are permitted, and in fact, results in a penalty. The technology used in this tournament has been applied in a number of other Atlantic coast states this season with success and we consider this instance to be a trial to evaluate the technology and utility of live release competitive striped bass fishing. Water temperatures are cold enough and waters saline enough to insure good survival of the fish angled, held and released.”

That’s a nice bureaucratic way to say, “The money bags from out of town can break the law, but local residents had better not, or else.”

This is an outrage that needs to be addressed immediately.

• ? Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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