Mystery's hook: Read between lines

OUTDOORS

March 28, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

As you can imagine, divers working on the recovery team after the Inner Harbor water taxi accident found some curious things in the murky depths.

For recreational anglers, there was this head-scratcher: thousands of feet of 500-pound test monofilament, with 11/0 galvanized steel J-hooks attached about every 3 feet.

One diver became tangled in the line and had to hack his way out with a knife. An unmanned submersible had to be raised and cleared of snarls.

Could this be evidence of illegal commercial long-lining in the Chesapeake Bay? Some folks are wondering.

"It was fairly fresh," says Bill Huppert of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association. "The line was relatively clean, no algae. The hooks weren't rusted."

Baltimore firefighters filled four large trash bags with the line and took one bag to MSSA executive director Rich Novotny.

"I was flabbergasted," he says. "We have lots of illegal fishing, but this would be over and above that."

Novotny says he's heard of illegal long-lining at the mouth of the bay in Virginia waters, "but as far as Maryland waters are concerned, no, not here."

One explanation could be that a large cargo ship dragged the line into the bay, where it drifted into the Inner Harbor.

Marty Gary, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, favors that theory.

"I'm not aware, from a poaching aspect, of anyone on the bay trying that kind of gear. It's just not efficient," he says. "I'd like to take a look at [the hooks and line] to get a sense of where it was used and what species was being targeted."

Novotny will deliver the goods to Annapolis this week. Stay tuned.

False advertising

So help me God, this is true.

It's Wednesday, 2:52 p.m. A dark green Land Rover Discovery tools down Lombard Street. A man in a business suit is at the wheel.

On the back, there's a "Treasure the Chesapeake" license plate nestled inside a "Land Rover Annapolis, Save the Bay" license plate frame.

Just before the vehicle turns into the parking lot across from 1st Mariner Arena, the driver flicks a cigarette butt into the street. From there, it will no doubt be washed into a storm drain and into the Inner Harbor and then into the bay.

Depending on environmental factors, cigarette filters take up to 10 years to degrade. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health says butts are the No. 1 item collected during the Center for Marine Conservation International Coastal Cleanup Project, accounting for nearly one-fifth of the trash.

Treasure the ashtray.

Maryland unplugged

There remains a slim chance that we will have online licenses this year. A bill to bring Maryland in line with 40 other states was voted down in the House Environmental Matters Committee, despite being sponsored by 17 delegates, Republican and Democrat.

Why?

The deck was stacked against the bill, with a naive fiscal impact report that assumed a worse-case scenario and warned that online licenses would cost the state boodles of bucks to develop a system or hire a vendor.

The fiscal report estimated that 2 percent of Maryland hunting and fishing licenses would be purchased online in 2006.

Excuse me?

If the high-low in the states now using e-licenses ranges from less than 1 percent to 35 percent, are you telling me that Maryland would be at the ultra-low end?

According to a recent survey, Maryland ranks eighth nationally, with 64 percent of the population online. What angler or hunter wouldn't want access to a 24-hour licensing center that would allow the printing of multiple copies for glove compartment, tackle box and wallet?

Luckily, Sen. John Astle's bill to authorize e-licenses was approved last Thursday on a 47-0 vote of the full Senate and has been sent to the House Environmental Matters Committee.

Given the chance to reconsider, let's hope lawmakers do. At the very least, they should give DNR the authority to begin the process this year.

Net effect

If you had any doubt about who would be helped by the proposed change in DNR crabbing regulations (relaxing the rules, of course), get a load of this.

At the hearing two weeks ago, one of those testifying was Baltimore County commercial fisherman Daniel Beck, who was in favor of being allowed to keep any crabs he caught in his nets.

In previous years, the practice has been illegal.

Said Beck of the crab catches: "It hasn't been a significant number in recent years. At times, they could help pay the bills, even if it's just two bushels a week."

Trusting Beck's assessment of the resource is like asking Mr. Magoo to help you back up the family RV.

The former president of the Baltimore County Watermen's Association pleaded guilty in federal court several years ago to poaching as much as $70,000 worth of rockfish from the waters off the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Beck admitted that he caught the fish using licenses allocated to his wife and daughter, then falsified catch information. But he insisted he did not know he was violating federal law. He was sentenced to a year in prison, was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine and was subject to a two-year period of supervised release.

Good to see DNR wants to help guys like Beck.

Fish on

Let's end here on an up note. The Loch Raven Fishing Center opens at 6 a.m. Friday.

You can't see it, but I'm grinning.

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