A year after the rockfish season was cut short because recreational and commercial fishermen were charged with poaching with illegally tied-down gill nets, a bill proposing the ban of all gill nets in Maryland waterways will be considered by the General Assembly.
Sponsored by the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association and state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat, Senate Bill 1032 calls for the ban of gill nets whether they are weighted down or not. Gill nets are legal, but it has been illegal to hold the nets down with weights since 1985.
Dave Smith, executive director of the MSSA, said Friday that his organization began considering sponsoring a bill in October after nearly 12 tons of striped bass were caught illegally last year. Smith said his organization approached Klausmeier in January.
"She knew about it [the poaching], and she was interested because she has a lot of anglers among her constituents," Smith said. "It finally culminated with her saying that she would take a serious look at trying to do something about it."
The incidents last year, which resulted in several arrests, came a year after more than nine miles of illegal gill nets were found near Rock Hall and followed an eight-year investigation that produced millions of pounds of illegally harvested fish from the Chesapeake watershed.
Currently the state allows nets of up to 3,500 yards (approximately two miles) that are not weighted down. Many fishermen wind up abandoning their gill nets, Smith said, pointing to one incident in which a recreational angler found some 600 pounds of decaying fish in a net.
Smith is hopeful the bill will pass.
"We've received some very positive feedback so far," he said.