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Striped Bass Law Enforcement Team Receives ASMFC Award of Excellence
Alexandria, VA — Members of the Interstate Watershed Task Force (IWTF) received an Annual Award of Excellence in law enforcement from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) on Tuesday, May 5, during an awards reception held in Alexandria, Va. The members were honored for their successful ongoing investigation of the illegal harvest, sale and purchase of 600,000 pounds of striped bass from Chesapeake Bay and tributary waters of Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission with an estimated value of $3 million.
“I want to commend the work of this task force – including our Maryland Natural Resources Police officers - in helping to protect the Chesapeake striped bass population,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “These resources belong to the public trust and citizens throughout the region who treasure our fishery resources and iconic Chesapeake Bay watershed.”
Mr. Wayne Hettenbach of Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division led the IWTF, which included the agents and officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Marine Police, and Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP).
“The IWTF’s outstanding work exemplifies the highest standard of professional law enforcement,” said DNR Fisheries Director Tom O’Connell. “Their tireless investigative efforts will hold watermen and related businesses accountable for their actions and ensure protection of rockfish for current and future generations. These efforts are critical to maintaining respect for Maryland’s fishery with our partner states along the Atlantic Coast and fairness among our fishing industry in Maryland.”
Agents in the IWTF conducted undercover purchases and sales of striped bass from 2003 to 2006 to identify illegal activities. In August 2007, the Task Force coordinated a joint law enforcement operation and take-down. Seven law enforcement agencies and some 95 officers and agents, spanning three jurisdictions, searched two seafood businesses, five residences and other locations. Seven subpoenas were served and two boats, as well as a pickup truck, were seized. In early 2008, they began an overt operation including a detailed analysis of striped bass catch reporting and commercial business sales records from 2003 through 2007. Because of the quality of the Task Force investigation and documentation, nearly all defendants have negotiated plea agreements with the Department of Justice.
Out of concerns for accountability and compliance in the commercial striped bass fishery, Maryland is taking action to address enforcement and harvest monitoring problems. These steps will improve management of the most sought after fish in the Chesapeake Bay. Last summer, DNR updated striped bass tagging requirements to improve accountability of fish caught with different commercial gear types. While an improvement, it became clear as information from this investigation became available that additional action was needed to this serious problem.
Additional accountability regulatory measures were proposed by the Department earlier this year, and adopted in April. These measures include additional changes to improve quota monitoring, harvester accountability and enforceability of commercial striped bass harvest regulations. These changes will prevent the untrackable transfers of harvest permits and provide for a regular audit of striped bass harvest tags. In addition, the 2009 Maryland General Assembly passed legislation that provides the Department with broader authority to implement penalties to commercial fishing violations, including the suspension and revocation of licenses.
To learn more about Maryland’s fisheries regulations, visit http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/regulations/regindex.html.
May 6, 2009
Contact: Megan Rhoads
Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 449,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov