Tuesday March 9, 2010
8 Rock Hall Men Charged With Serious Striped Bass Violations

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Rock Hall, MD (March 8, 2010) — Eight Rock Hall men that were arrested last week for rockfish poaching are the first suspects to face a new, tiered penalty system, which imposes penalties on both first time offenders and repeat offenders, based on the severity of their crime. Two of the eight men—William Howard Beck, 43, and John Franklin Riggs, 43—were charged with oyster poaching by the Natural Resource Police (NRP) in December, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) subsequently suspended Beck’s rights to catch oysters for the season due to repeat offenses.

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Rock Hall, Kent County (February 25, 2010) – Maryland Natural Resources Police Officers Cpl. Roy Rafter and Officer David Rice unload 978 lbs of striped bass seized from an illegal gill net in Chesapeake Bay, Kent County.

“Repeat offenders will not be tolerated,” said Secretary John Griffin. “The State, its partners and stakeholders are working together to preserve our resources for future generations of Marylanders and we take these crimes against our public resources very seriously.”

Under the new system, which went into effect February 22, crimes are now organized into three tiers, which carry both immediate penalties and points that can be accrued to suspend a license. For egregious violations, DNR can suspend a license on a first offense.

Beck and Riggs are accustomed to facing a judge for natural resource violations. Both were caught at 2:30 a.m. Christmas morning – well outside legal harvesting hours – with seven bushels of oysters on their boats. Less than a week later NRP charged Beck with seven bushels of oysters illegally harvested by dredge in an area reserved for patent tonging and oyster diving.

On February 23, NRP arrested and charged Beck with possessing striped bass greater than 36 inches and mutilating striped bass to the extent that size could not be determined. NRP officers caught Beck when they checked J & J Seafood in Rock Hall and found striped bass with cut tails.

NRP charged Riggs on February 24 with failing to check in striped bass during the required times. NRP officers located striped bass hidden in the cabin of a boat belonging to Riggs. The fish were not checked into a DNR check station within three hours of completing a fishing trip and before 9:00 pm.

Riggs and Beck are also facing charges of failing to properly mark gill nets in the Chesapeake Bay and setting or maintaining an unattended striped bass gill net. On February 24, NRP officers located several unattended striped bass gill nets in the Chesapeake Bay and were able to identify the nets as belonging to Riggs and Beck.

Also during the week of February 22:

• Lewis Herbert Cain Sr., 63, Christopher Wesley Lingerman, 37, and Joel Colon, 29, were charged with possession of striped bass greater than 36 inches. The three men were charged when NRP officers boarded a commercial fishing boat on February 23 in Rock Hall Harbor and found three oversize striped bass hidden in a compartment under the deck of the boat.

• James Daniel Elburn, 51, Donnie Bartus Collier, 55, and William Bartus Collier, 81, were charged with striped bass violations when NRP found hidden fish in the forward compartment of their fishing boat on February 23. All three individuals were charged with possessing striped bass greater than 36 inches. Elburn and Collier were charged with two counts of mutilating striped bass to the extent that size could not be determined and catching striped bass in excess of their daily catch limits.

Under changes to law made by the General Assembly in 2009, each of these individuals, if convicted, could face up to $1000 for a first offense and up to $2000 for each subsequent offense. Additionally, on February 22, 2010, the Department’s new commercial fishing points and suspension system took effect. If convicted, these individuals could face additional penalties in the form of points on their license resulting in license suspensions. Offenses for convictions of possessing mutilated fish whose size and weight cannot be determined are given 5 points each with 30 day suspensions applying to any licensee with at least 10 points. Suspensions increase as the number of points increases on a license. Suspensions, regardless of points, for egregious violations are maintained in this new system and still include provisions of 180 to 365 day suspensions for harvesting oysters more than 2 hours outside of the designated time.

NRP seized approximately 16,500 yards of illegally anchored gill (approximately 55 nets) and 3,200 lbs. of rockfish during the last week and half of February. The nets were seized as officers patrolled the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in search of illegal poaching activity.

Licensed commercial watermen are allowed to fish only attended drift gillnets when catching striped bass. Attended drift gill nets are nets that float vertically in the water column and move with the currents of the water. The fish are caught by the gills as they swim into the net. The watermen must remain with in a 1 mile radius of nets in the tributaries and within 2 miles of nets in the main bay. This attention to the net ensures that non targeted species can be removed from the net and released. The seized nets were found anchored and unattended.

NRP makes the removal of the illegal nets a priority. These nets continue to catch all species of fish and other aquatic creatures as long as they remain in the water. The seized nets were found to contain not only rockfish but dead diving ducks and loons.

The commercial striped bass gill net fisheries are held in the months of December, January and February.

Five hundred pounds of the recovered fish were donated to the Joseph House in Salisbury and the remainder was sold.

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