Nearly 2 more tons of striped bass found illegally caught off Kent Island

About 1,800 yards of net pulled from Chesapeake

February 12, 2011|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

Natural Resources Police found two more illegal nets off Kent Island on Friday, filled with nearly two tons of striped bass.

Officers worked until midnight to pull the submerged nets from the Chesapeake Bay and count the fish. One net was about a mile south of Bloody Point, where more than 10 tons of fish have been confiscated. The other net was about 21/2 miles inside Eastern Bay.

The 3,879 pounds of fish and more than a mile of nets both appeared to be fresh, indicating that poachers are continuing to net despite increased patrols and public awareness.

Meanwhile on Friday, NRP officers served search warrants at a Tilghman Island home and removed boxes and a laptop computer.

The warrants, which are "part of the ongoing investigation into rockfish poaching," have been sealed by court order, according to NRP Sgt. Art Windemuth.

Windemuth said officers are continuing to receive "very good" tips from NRP's poacher hot line (800-635-6124).

Maryland officials are under increasing pressure from regional regulators who set the annual striped bass quota for Eastern Seaboard states to show they have control of the situation and will prevent overfishing. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meets next month in Northern Virginia and is sure to discuss the matter.

Department of Natural Resources officials closed the commercial gill net season three weeks early to ensure that the state does not exceed the quota, but conservation and recreational angling groups are urging the state to consider tougher measures to protect the striped bass population and keep pressure on watermen to turn in the poachers.

The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the poachers doubled yesterday, when the nonprofit group Chesapeake BaySavers added $10,000 to the total.

But Dorchester County watermen say the NRP has overstepped its authority by placing a tracking device on one of their boats and brackets on a half-dozen others. That prompted the county legislative delegation to complain to DNR Secretary John Griffin.

While declining to discuss the investigation, Griffin and NRP Col. George Johnson insist that laws were followed and court orders were obtained where necessary.

Patrol boats continue to drag the waters around Kent Island and the Chester and Choptank rivers with grappling hooks. Officers also are grappling off Calvert Cliffs.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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