Nine out-of-state fishermen charged with poaching from Choptank River

Natural Resources Police tapes recreational anglers fishing in protected waters

April 11, 2011|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

Nine recreational anglers from out of state were charged with fishing for striped bass in protected waters during a weekend sting operation in the Choptank River south of Denton, just one week before the start of Maryland's spring season.

Working on tips from the public, Natural Resources Police officers shot video of the alleged poachers fishing on known spawning grounds and intercepted them as they returned to shore at Ganeys Wharf. Police say one angler caught 20 striped bass.

NRP said it shot video to prove in court that the anglers were targeting striped bass and not accidentally catching them while chasing other species.

At least 75 percent of the East Coast's striped bass, or rockfish, begin their lives here, and this time of the year is critical for the health of the population. The migratory fish enter the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries each spring to spawn. As a result, Maryland law prohibits anglers from fishing in protected areas from March 31 to May 31.

The Choptank is a well-known and highly productive area where thousands of huge female fish take refuge while awaiting the right water conditions. They flash along the surface in half-mile-long streamers of silver and collide with small boats in their efforts to stake out territory.

Striped bass, Maryland's state fish, is popular at markets along the Eastern Seaboard, fetching more than $15 a pound in season. For that reason, the fish also has become a favorite of poachers.

In recent years, law enforcement agencies have increased their efforts to curtail illegal fishing at all levels.

Late last year, a state-federal task force concluded a lengthy investigation that resulted in the conviction of 19 men and three seafood businesses for their part in a poaching black market that processed 1.63 million pounds of striped bass with a fair market value of $6.54 million. In February, NRP discovered thousands of yards of illegally submerged nets in Eastern Bay filled with 12.6 tons of striped bass, leading to a three-week closure of the commercial season.

Last month, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration federal agents seized records and electronic equipment from charter boats working in protected federal waters 3 to 200 miles off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina. A grand jury has been reviewing the evidence.

"We take this seriously, whether it is a waterman or a recreational angler," Fisheries Service Director Tom O'Connell said. "People say it's easy to use an illegal net; well, it's just as easy to go out and throw a line. People can't resist. Some watermen can't resist the urge to make an extra buck, and some recreational anglers can't resist these big striped bass."

At the urging of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, a state fisheries advisory commission Tuesday night will begin grappling with the question of greater recreational accountability. Watermen must tag and report their catch to the Fisheries Service, but no such regulation governs recreational catches.

"This is a discussion we need to be having," O'Connell said.

On Saturday, NRP charged four people with fishing in protected waters: William Darr Hall, 57, of Bridgetown, Del.; Kevin Glen Reese, 46, and Mark Bryan Stubbs, age unknown, both of Katy, Texas; and Terry Edward Andrus, age unknown, of Cypress, Texas.

On Sunday, officers charged five Delaware residents: Frederick Joseph Ruff, 49, of Milton; Kathy Ewing Ruff, 49, of Milton; Timothy Wayne Barnett, 31, of Bridgeville; Chad Edward Tingle, 35, of Selbyville; and Paul Edward Daisey, 30, of Millville.

Seven other anglers received warnings.

Attempts to reach the anglers were unsuccessful.

The penalty includes a fine of $125 and a possible one-year license suspension. The cases are scheduled to be heard in Caroline District Court on May 13.

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