Thirty-seven people were charged with illegal possession of rockfish yesterday at a state park on the Eastern Shore, where a late-night tip brought a quick response by Natural Resources Police.
Police seized 15 fish, each weighing between 8 and 10 pounds and measuring 24 to 28 inches, from anglers leaving Matapeake State Park on Kent Island, south of the Bay Bridge, said Robert Gould, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.
Mr. Gould said cars leaving the park with anglers identified by police surveillance were stopped and searched between midnight and 10 a.m. Officers also seized about $4,000 worth of fishing equipment, he said.
"This was not like somebody was out fishing and caught one by mistake," Mr. Gould said. "These people knew what they were doing. Rockfish are very obvious."
The police effort to halt the illegal catching of rockfish -- also known as striped bass -- began last month at Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Harford County, where more than 100 citations have been issued. The crackdown has spread to include other problem areas -- and reached Matapeake because of the late-night tip from an anonymous caller, police said.
Once threatened by pollution in the Chesapeake, the population of the rockfish -- once known as the "King of the Chesapeake Bay" -- is increasing, apparently as a result of a 1985 moratorium on striped bass fishing. In 1991, the ban was partially lifted to allow a monthlong restricted fishing season. This year's season begins next month.
Mr. Gould said everyone in the cars where fish were found is subject to a citation for possessing rockfish out of season, no matter who caught it. The misdemeanor carries a maximum $500 fine per fish.
"It's part of a Natural Resources Police crackdown on rockfish poaching in Maryland," Mr. Gould said of the citations. "It's not going to be tolerated. This is a big bust. It sends a message to the public."
A court date for the police catch has been set for Oct. 26 in Queen Anne's County District Court in Centreville.
The fish were expected to be donated to food kitchens, probably on the Eastern Shore, Mr. Gould said.