By Kerry Davis
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS -- Gill net fishing season was closed for the month and multiple agencies are offering a reward for information leading to arrests after a 10-ton rockfish poaching bust earlier this week.
The Department of Natural Resources and other agencies announced they were closing the season Friday over concerns that the rockfish population is nearing its commercial fishing quota for the month. They also cited concerns that more illegal nets could still be found.
Authorities and fishermen said poachers take opportunities away from other fishermen.
"It's taken some of the quota away from the honest fishermen," said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association. "So they're stealing from the other fishermen is what it amounts to."
Multiple agencies have pooled money to offer more than $7,000 as a reward for information leading to the arrest of any poachers involved.
Natural Resources Police found poaching sites of rockfish, or striped bass, in anchored gill nets on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay Monday night through Wednesday. The nets were all discovered near each other off of Kent Island.
Fisheries authorities might allow the gill net season to re-open later this month if no further illegal nets are found.
The recovered fish were hauled ashore by natural resources police and were sold to area fisheries. Col. George Johnson IV, the DNR superintendent, said the fish netted about $30,000 to $40,000, which has been set aside for future DNR purchases.
Gill nets are legal but it has been illegal to anchor the nets down with weights since 1985.
DNR Fisheries Services Director Tom O'Connell said the latest poaching bust makes him want to increase the penalties for using illegal gill nets, as well as other illegal activities for watermen. The current penalty for using an illegal gill net is 60 days of fishing license suspension.
Each month, fisheries authorities decide how many days per week gill net fishing will be open. The season remains open until the commercial quota is reached.
The Catch-a-Poacher 24-hour hotline is: 800-635-6124.