Two watermen banned for rest of oyster season

DNR suspends their licenses, alleges both committed numerous violations

February 03, 2010|By Candus Thomson | Candy.thomson@baltsun.com

In a continued crackdown on poachers, the Department of Natural Resources suspended the licenses of two watermen Tuesday who officials say have been caught numerous times stealing oysters from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Zachary W. Seaman, 26 of Woolford, and Edward B. Lowery, 45 of Tilghman, are banned from harvesting oysters for the rest of the season.

It's the second time in less than a month DNR has used its authority that allows suspension of a license if the public health, safety or welfare requires emergency action.

DNR Secretary John Griffin called the suspensions and stepped-up patrols "a warning" that comes as the O'Malley administration is proposing an oyster management and restoration plan to increase oyster sanctuaries and aquaculture zones. Natural Resources Police officers are being allowed to set their own shifts to catch poachers, who generally work overnight, and a multi-million dollar network of cameras and radar units are being installed to monitor oyster bars and sanctuaries.

"These are serious acts, violating the public's trust and stealing from future generations of working Marylanders," said Griffin. "We take wanton abuse of the law very seriously."

According to court documents, NRP officials caught Lowery harvesting oysters with a power dredge in an area reserved for hand tonging at 2 a.m. on Jan. 21. He was charged with power dredging outside the legal hours, possession of oysters on a vessel more than two hours after sunset and power dredging in an area reserved for hand tongs.

DNR had already suspended Lowery's license for the first 10 days of the 2009-2010 season. But documents show that on Oct. 1 -- the first day of the season -- officers caught Lowery harvesting oysters and charged him with harvesting oysters on a suspended license. Six days later, NRP caught Lowery harvesting oysters again. Officers also found undersized oysters on his boat. NRP charged Lowery again with harvesting oysters on a suspended license and charged him with possession of undersized oysters.

Lowery did not show up for either court date. His first appearance has been rescheduled for Feb. 19, the second date has yet to be scheduled and his most recent charges will be heard in Talbot District Court on March 18.

Court records also show Lowery has more than 30 natural resource violations, including illegally catch striped bass, exceeding his harvest limit, dredging for oysters in a prohibited area and harvesting undersized oysters.

On Dec. 7, NRP officers arrested Seaman near Wingate with 31 bushels of oysters -- nearly three times the legal limit -- on his vessel. Less than a month later, officers caught Seaman harvesting oysters in the Hooper's Island Straight Oyster Sanctuary.

Seaman also has a record of Natural Resources violations. He twice failed to submit monthly harvest reports this season and has been convicted of poaching striped bass, oysters and crabs. He is scheduled to appear in court March 21 and 24.

Lowery and Seaman have two weeks to request a hearing to appeal the suspension.

On Monday, NRP officers charged Tilghman Island watermen Bartlett Wade Murphy Jr., 36; Edward Bruce Lowery Jr., 45; Bobby Lee Gowe, 25; and Richard Nicholas Fluharty, 24, with poaching oysters in Broad Creek in Talbot County.

The four men were illegally power dredging for oysters at 1:30 a.m., according to charging documents. The watermen had turned off the navigation lights on both vessels to avoid detection, but NRP officers had night vision goggles that allowed them to see the activity.

All four watermen were charged with power dredging outside legal hours, power dredging in a restricted hand tong area and possession of oysters on board a vessel more than two hours after sunset. They are scheduled to appear in Talbot District Court on March 18.

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