Laws and Regulations

By Howard King

We are fortunate to be part of a form of government where the source of all power and authority lies with its citizens. The Maryland Constitution's Declaration of Rights guarantees this democratic freedom to govern for the good of the people. The Maryland form of government assigns roles to three complementary branches of Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The three branches of State government act together to preserve, protect, and extend the privileges and obligations provided to the citizens of Maryland by the State Constitution.


The Executive branch is the Governor and the executive State agencies of which the Department of Natural Resources is an example. The Legislative branch is the General Assembly made up of a House of Delegates and a Senate where together they propose bills, debate issues and pass bills that the Governor may sign into law. The Judicial branch is the Attorney General, Assistant Attorneys General and the courts system. Executive branch agencies each have assigned assistant attorneys general to ensure that the operations of the agency are conducted in full accordance with Maryland and federal law. One of the most important functions of the General Assembly is to work with the Executive branch to adopt a budget submitted by the Governor each year to keep the government operating efficiently and to implement new programs proposed by the Governor or Assembly and included in the Governor's budget.


The members of the General Assembly represent the 47 legislative districts of Maryland. Members are elected by registered voters in the district. Each district has one Senator and three Delegates. The Senate has 47members and the House has 141 members. The Assembly meets each year for a 90-day session beginning on the second Wednesday in January. Legislation may be of an emergency nature that is enacted into law immediately upon approval by both houses and signed by the Governor. However, most legislation moves through the Assembly at a more measured, although sometimes hectic, pace for passage or rejection by the end of the session in April. Legislation passed by both houses must be signed by the Governor by May 31 of each year to become law. Otherwise the legislation does not become law. The legislature is the principal policy making body in Maryland reflected through the intent and application of laws resulting from each legislative session. Legislative issues deal with the broad spectrum of the well being of the State and include many elements to protect, conserve, and manage fish resources under the aegis of the Department of Natural Resources. Licensing and licensing fees for commercial and recreational fishing and crabbing are set by law, as are prohibitions for the use of certain fishing gear and methods Statewide. There are certain county restrictions that are set out in law. All of the law pertaining to fish resources specifically are found in the Natural Resources Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland and can be accessed on the Maryland Law Library Website or current legislative activity can be accessed on the General Assembly Website at ​at any time.


The General Assembly has granted management authority for most major species of fish and crabs, oysters and clams, to the Department of Natural Resources through a specific law set out as Section 4-215, of the Annotated Code, entitled Fishery Management Plans. This law permits the Department to set rules and regulations that have the force of law. The Department must adhere to a prescribed series of steps in order to adopt regulations. We must use the best scientific information available, propose regulations that are fair and equitable with reasonable assurance that the rule will have the desired effect, and conduct a thorough public involvement process to inform the public and receive comments of the effected parties and the general public before adopting any regulation.

Regulations are proposed as either emergency or permanent. An emergency regulation is usually in effect for 180 days, and must first be approved by a review committee of the General Assembly titled the Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review Committee (AELR). It will then expire or can be extended or replaced by a permanent regulation that has moved through the prescribed order of steps during the period of the emergency regulation. A permanent regulation requires up to 6 months from proposal to implementation. The length of time is necessary for the review of any proposal by departmental interagency teams, advisory committees of the Department, meetings with constituent groups directly effected by the proposal, a review period of the AELR Committee, publication of the proposal and dissemination of information, public meetings or hearings and publication of notice of adoption of the regulation with an effective date. A permanent regulation can be modified at any time by proposing a new regulation to make the change. Regulations for the management of Maryland Fish resources may be found in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR). Subscriptions are available or you may access regulations at the Division of State Documents Website or view essential regulatory seasons, size limits and gear restrictions at this Fisheries Service website under the sidebar title Fishing Regulations. For more information on this article or on laws or regulations pertaining to fisheries management you may contact customer service at