- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley last week signed three new bills into law that promise to dole out severe penalties whenever the state’s fishing laws are broken.

It’s about time, Mr. Governor!

Much of this likely is in response to the recent arrest and conviction of a number of southern Maryland fish netters and dealers who robbed the Chesapeake Bay of millions of dollars worth of striped bass. As the governor said, “Poaching and other illegal fishing activity amounts to stealing the valuable natural resources that are critical to maintaining healthy rivers and bays.”

With that in mind, newly enacted House Bill 1355 will allow the Department of Natural Resources to “apply a reasonable commercial license suspension or revocation when someone is convicted of violating a commercial fishing law.”

Before this law was enacted, the DNR could not suspend a commercial fishing license unless the holder of the license incurred multiple convictions over two to five years. Now there will be no need to consider the frequency of being nabbed by the law. A license suspension or revocation can take place for a first violation.

House Bill 1419, also signed by Gov. O’Malley, will increase the maximum allowable fine from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and from $1,000 to $2,000 for a second or subsequent violation of fisheries law. Such fines are low and laughable even under the new law, but it also allows the DNR to impose restitution or other monetary penalties on a person convicted of violating certain fisheries laws and authorizes the DNR to establish a list of monetary and ecological values for aquatic species. Restitution paid will be used for replacement, habitat management or enforcement programs for fish or protected species.

Senate Bill 164 gives the DNR authority to suspend recreational fishing privileges across both tidal and nontidal waters if someone does not comply with the state’s fishing regulations.

I have no problem with that. If the commercial fish netters must deal with newer and tougher law enforcement if a violator is caught, why not the recreational fishing community? Everyone who fishes in Maryland (and any other state, for that matter) should be held responsible when a law is broken. Besides, all of us owe so very much to future generations of fish seekers. We must protect our natural resources at all costs.

One more waterman sentenced - Yet another St. Mary’s County waterman who stood accused of being part of a group of back marketeers who illegally sold tons of rockfish (striped bass) over a period of years was found guilty May 5. Thomas Crowder Jr. was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $240,000 in restitution for poaching nearly $1 million worth of rockfish.

As a side note, here’s hoping all the sport fishermen in southern Maryland who are sick and tired of the violations by certain segments of the commercial fishing industry remember that U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, sought to soften the blow against Crowder by writing a letter of support for the waterman, saying he was an important and contributing member of the St. Mary’s County community. I guess Rep. Hoyer doesn’t think it’s all that bad if you poach a million bucks worth of striped bass. You’ve lost my vote, Mr. Congressman.

• 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] Also check out Mueller’s Inside Outside blog on www.washingtontimes.com/ sports.

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