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Oyster Sanctuary and Criminal Violations

Dorchester County, Md. – On February 10 the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) arrested Robert J. Benton, Jr. 44 from Stevensville, on conservation and criminal charges after he was caught illegally harvesting oysters and then tried to avoid the charges by using another waterman’s identity. On February 3, Benton was stopped while he was illegally diving for oysters in the Little Choptank River. When asked for ID, Benton gave NRP Officers a tidal fish license in another waterman’s name, representing himself as that person. 

Benton was charged with fraud, fraud to avoid prosecution, fraud to avoid payment greater than $500 and theft. Benton was also charged with taking oysters without a commercial license, failure to pay oyster surcharge and taking oyster for commercial purposes by diving in an area reserved for hand tongs. Benton faces penalties that range from $250 to $25,000 and 15 years in prison.  Benton was jailed in the Dorchester County Detention Center on $10,000 bond.

Somerset County – On February 10 at 7 a.m., NRP Officers charged five individuals with harvesting oysters in the Tangier Sound Oyster Sanctuary. NRP Officers were aboard a Maryland State Police helicopter when they noticed three commercial fishing boats illegally dredging for oysters in the sanctuary.

Officers charged the following individuals with unlawfully harvesting oysters in an oyster sanctuary:

  1. Steven P. Benton, 43 from Deale Island, and Darin K. Ford, 46 from Princess Anne, aboard the Donna Lee.
  2. Andrew A. Benton, 37 and Ulyses Seawright Jr., 33 both from Wenona, aboard the Gentle Breeze.
  3. David T. Wheatley Sr., 47 from Wenona aboard the Just Faith.

NRP Officers seized Wheatley’s oyster dredge from his boat. This was the second time this season that Wheatley was apprehended in the oyster sanctuary. His previous violation occurred on January 20.

St. Mary’s County – On February 9 at 3 p.m., NRP charged three individuals with removing oysters from an oyster sanctuary and possessing undersized oysters in the St. Mary’s River near Great Mills. Officers charged Migdael A. Trujillo, 32, Lorenzo A. Regalado, 32 and Jose M. Vaquers, 42 all from Dameron, Md.  A trial date of May 18, 2012 has been set for the District Court of Maryland for St. Mary’s County.

Under Governor Martin O’Malley’s leadership, increased law enforcement is part of an overall effort to deter poaching and toughen penalties for those who violate fishing laws in Maryland, under the Fisheries Management Reform Act of 2007. A noteworthy part of this effort is the launch of fresh enforcement initiatives and enhancements including the installation of a network of radar and camera units to assist the NRP in monitoring sensitive areas that are prone to poaching. DNR, the Office of the Attorney General and the District Court of Maryland have also expanded a successful program that sets aside specific days to try only cases dealing with natural resources violations.

For a glimpse at how the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population was regulated in the 1870s, visit dnr.state.md.us/nrp/pdfs/reportuponoyster1870davi.pdf. This recently discovered report was written by Commander Hunter Davidson addressing status of the oyster to the legislature.

Note: If you choose to use an acronym, please refer to the Maryland Natural Resources Police as “NRP.” Thank you.


   February 13, 2012

Contact: Sgt. A.A. Windemuth
410-260-8003 office | 410-713-8449 cell
awindemuth@dnr.state.md.us

The Maryland Natural Resources Police is the enforcement arm of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). With an authorized strength of 247 officers and a dedicated staff of civilian and volunteer personnel, the NRP provide a variety of services in addition to conservation, maritime and law enforcement duties throughout the State of Maryland. These services include homeland security, search and rescue, emergency medical services, education, information and communications services on a round the clock basis. NRP is the only police force aside from the Maryland State Police that has statewide jurisdiction.

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