Six men charged with poaching oysters from sanctuary

Officers also haul in another illegal striped bass net off Kent Island

February 24, 2011|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

Six Eastern Shore men were charged Thursday with stealing oysters from a state sanctuary in the Corsica River, and Natural Resources Police officers discovered another illegal striped bass net in the waters off Kent Island.

NRP officers saw the men hand tonging for oysters just before noon Monday in the Possum Point Oyster Sanctuary, a 3.67-acre site in Queen Anne's County that is designated by markers. As the patrol boat followed the boat toward the harbor, the men threw the oysters overboard.

Officers intercepted the boat and the men at the Centreville Wharf. Benjamin Shafer Byers, 20, of Bozeman; Brandon Howard Mende, 22, of Centreville; Brian Todd Hambleton, 24, of Bozeman; Jeffrey Lee Anthony, 29, of Grasonville; Michael Karlis Murphy, 26, of Queenstown; and Christopher Lee Marvel, 18, of Grasonville were all charged with removing oysters from an oyster sanctuary. Additionally, Marvel and Mende were charged with oystering commercially without a license.

Meanwhile, officers dragging the area around Love Point at the north end of Kent Island on Wednesday hauled in a 400-yard submerged net filled with about 400 pounds of striped bass.

Sgt. Art Windemuth, NRP spokesman, said some of the fish were decaying, leading officers to believe that the net was placed in the water by poachers before the commercial rockfish season was shut down Feb. 4.

The Department of Natural Resources temporarily ended the season after officers confiscated 10 tons of illegally caught striped bass. In all, 12.6 tons of fish have been recovered.

A two-day commercial gill net season resumes Friday and concludes on Monday.

Restoring oysters and promoting aquaculture have been priorities of the O'Malley administration. The governor's 2010 plan increased the state's oyster sanctuaries from 9 percent to 24 percent of remaining quality habitat.

The Oyster Recovery Partnership has been planting at Possum Point since 2005. The sanctuary has received 13.9 million oysters.

"We must continue to send the message that wanton disregard for natural resources law will not be tolerated," DNR Secretary John Griffin said in a statement. "These violations are a serious abuse of the public's trust that must be met with serious consequences."

Hambleton was fined $52.50 two years ago for possessing unculled oysters. The others have no convictions on natural resources offenses.

All six men are scheduled for trial in Queen Anne's District Court on April 6.

The maximum penalty for stealing oysters from a sanctuary is a $3,000 fine and suspension of a tidal fish license for up to one year.

The General Assembly is considering a bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Frosh that would allow DNR to permanently revoke a commercial license after a hearing.

"These latest arrests are another demonstration of why we need tough poaching legislation," said Frosh. "Taking oysters illegally has to have consequences. Otherwise, we'll see no turnaround in the downward spiral in our oyster population and the Chesapeake Bay."

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