News from the DNR Office of Communications

Three Oyster Poachers Receive License Suspensions Under New Penalty System

DNR Continues Escalated Enforcement of Natural Resources Violations

Annapolis, Md. (July 21, 2010) — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has suspended the licenses of three commercial oystermen for one, one and a half and, two-season terms.

Richard N. Fluharty, who was convicted for oystering at night in March, will be prohibited from harvesting oysters for the entire next season, from October 1 to March 31. Bartlett W. Murphy, who was convicted for oystering at night and dredging for oysters in a hand tong only area in March, will be prohibited from harvesting oysters for the next two oyster seasons. Bobby Lee Gowe was convicted in March for oystering at night. He will be prohibited from oystering during the next oyster season and the first half of the following oyster season.

DNR established the new tougher penalty system for commercial fishing violations in February, as part of an overall focus on enforcement efforts to better protect Maryland’s public fishery resources. Under the old system, a waterman had to receive convictions on multiple days before the Department could impose a suspension; the new system allows the agency to impose suspensions for a single conviction.
“Our Natural Resources Police officers are doing a terrific job of catching these offenders,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin. “Our new penalty system is helping us keep these criminals off the water and clearly deliver the message that violations of the public trust will not be tolerated.”

This year the agency also issued three immediate suspensions under a provision that allows a unit of State government to order the suspension of a license if the public health, safety or welfare requires emergency action.

The Department has also established a natural resources pilot program with the Annapolis District Court, through which the court hears a docket devoted exclusively to natural resource violations on the third Friday of every month.

“Devoting a docket exclusively to fishing, hunting and forestry violations lets judges and state’s attorneys focus on natural resources law, become acquainted with repeat offenders, and better assess the gravity of natural resources violations," said DNR Deputy Secretary Joe Gill. "This program has been very successful and we are hoping to expand it to other jurisdictions.”

There are currently five additional administrative enforcement actions pending or under investigation by the Department for oyster violations.

The escalating enforcement is part of Governor Martin O’Malley’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, which is currently being reviewed by the General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Commission for implementation in September. The plan is designed to increase Maryland’s network of oyster sanctuaries — from 9 percent to 24 percent of remaining quality habitat; increase areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture and streamline the permitting process; and maintain 76 percent of the Bay’s remaining quality oyster habitat for a more targeted, sustainable, and scientifically managed public oyster fishery.

Since 1994, the Chesapeake Bay oyster population has languished at 1 percent of historic levels. Over the past 25 years, the amount of suitable oyster habitat has declined by 80 percent—from 200,000 acres to just 36,000 acres. Maryland’s annual oyster harvest has fallen from an average of 2.5 million bushels in the late 1960s to about 100,000 bushels a year since 2002, while the number of oystermen working Maryland’s portion of the Bay has dwindled from more than 2000 to just 550.

The Natural Resources Police remind Marylanders to report suspicious activity to the statewide Communication Center at 800-628-9944 or 410-260-8888.


   July 21, 2010

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell
jdavidsburg@dnr.state.md.us

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages nearly one-half million 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 11 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