Poaching picture gets no prettier



April 06, 2003|By CANDUS THOMSON

There should be a reserved table in anglers' hell for poachers.

You know the type - never takes the legal five trout when 50 are available and then boasts about it.

The state has a toll-free number for good citizens to turn in rotten ones. It advertises the number in both editions of the fishing guide. Trout Unlimited chapters give away business cards with the number.

Pretty good so far.

But lots of anglers, from Conowingo Dam to Point Lookout, tell me that not only do there seem to be more poachers each year, they're also growing bolder.

The understaffed Natural Resources Police seem unable to corral them.

A frustrated Samuel Price called me Friday after his failed attempts to turn in trout poachers at the Gwynns Falls put-and-take area just east of the Baltimore Beltway and below Route 140.

The 53-year-old Trout Unlimited member watched last Thursday as one scofflaw took 11 trout, another took seven and yet a third made two separate trips to the stream in an attempt to skirt the daily five-fish limit.

"I'm not a rocket scientist, but I can count to five," he says.

Price took down descriptions of the crooks and their license plate numbers and called his local Natural Resources Police precinct in Owings Mills.

He says he was told an officer would call him. It wasn't until late Friday morning he finally got a call back.

"When the violation is happening now, what good does it do to get someone out there in December?" he asked. "I've got the [state fisheries] guide that tells me it's my duty to turn in a poacher. I turn them in and all I get is `tough crunchies' from the state."

DNR spokeswoman Heather Lynch says officers will step up their patrols in the area. But the best bet is to call the toll-free number, 800-635-6124, and tell the operator, "I'm calling for Catch-A-Poacher."

That stretch of Gwynns Falls was stocked with 1,000 trout before the end of last month and is scheduled to get 750 more before May 4, state records show.

Price says all of the poachers were adults. Guess their parents never taught them to share.

"People going grocery shopping from that stream just tick me off. I told one of them, `Buy a bucket and take it to the stocking truck and have them fill it up because what you're doing isn't fishing.'

"It's not right for five guys to be able to take all the trout," he says.

Sadly, the number of poachers of fish and wildlife most likely will continue increasing as the number of Natural Resources Police officers declines.

The Office of Field Operations, which is charged with enforcing wildlife, fish and boating laws, and conducting search and rescue missions, has an authorized strength of 247. It had, as of Friday, an actual field strength of 217 officers, with five officers on inactive duty and 25 vacancies.

The last class of 12 officers graduated from the police academy in February and there are no more classes in the pipeline.

You can do the math, but the total isn't pretty for law-abiding anglers.

Bird brains

"Curly," my grandmother once asked my grandfather as they sat in their Susquehanna River cabin. "How do they get those ducks to sit so still?"

"They're decoys," my grandfather grumbled without looking up.

"Is that like a mallard?" she asked innocently.

And you wonder why I turned out the way I did.

Decoys and the real McCoys will be on display during Delmarva Birding Weekend on April 25-27.

Guided tours, canoe paddles and boat rides get participants close to eagles, warblers, loons, owls and herons. Or, you can go it alone in one of the parks or wildlife areas that are part of the program.

The Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition will take place all weekend at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City. The competition draws more than 2,000 entries. Judging goes on Friday and Saturday and you can watch the judges work the convention center floor and try to pick the winners yourself. The top prize is $20,000.

The weekend kicks off with a banquet and lecture at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the convention center. I can't vouch for the food, but the speaker is a cool dude.

Mark Hoffman is associate director of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service who holds the record for the bird species seen in Maryland and Worcester County. Even more remarkable, in my mind, is his ability to explain the agency's budget, what the legislature is doing and what it all means to the outdoors community.

Hoffman will show his photos of 70 of Maryland's rarest species, many only recorded once or twice in the state, and offer tips for finding each bird.

To get more information, go to: skipjack.net/le_shore/birdingweekend, or call the Worcester County Tourism office at 800-852-0335.

Fish on

Thursday is the registration deadline for the popular Kids' Fishing Derby, sponsored by the Friends of Lake Waterford Park and Pasadena Sportsfishing Association from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., April 19.

The cost is $2 per child. Each participant will get a free hot dog and soda. Prizes will be awarded to the anglers who reel in the three longest fish or catch the most fish in one of three age groups, 5 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 15.

To register, call the park at 410-222-6248.

Stealth staffer

The folks running DNR (whoever they are) are playing a shell game with spring cleaning coordinator and former legislative liaison Phil Bissett.

Here's a guy making $77,000 a year and no one wants to say what his job is or where his office is. He must be painting himself in some of that Stealth bomber paint.

One thing's for certain: Whenever he appears, people seem to suffer career-ending accidents.

While taking a breather from his cleaning duties in the Maryland Stadium Authority skybox at Camden Yards on Opening Day, Bissett told folks he was still employed by DNR, but working out of the governor's office.

Maybe they found some snakeheads in the State House.

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