By Kerry Davis
Capital News Service
KENT ISLAND -- Maryland Natural Resources Police found nearly seven tons of poached rockfish in illegally anchored fishing nets on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay Tuesday night and Wednesday, bringing the total this week to 10 tons of rockfish, authorities said.
Authorities said they were tipped off about possible poaching, leading them to find the first nets off of Kent Island Monday night.
"They (police) waited out there overnight for Tuesday morning since 3 a.m. was the opening day of rockfish season," said Sgt. Art Windemuth, of the Natural Resources Police. "When no one showed up by 7 a.m. they pulled up the net."
The nets, which natural resources police have been pulling from the water since Tuesday, have all been anchored to the bottom of the Bay with hundreds of pounds of weights.
Anchored nets were made illegal in 1985. Drifting gill nets are legal and are visible by floaters from above the water. Gill nets are designed to trap a fish around the gills once it swims through the opening.
Tuesday's haul brought in 900 yards of net and amounted to three tons of striped bass, commonly called rockfish. There were so many fish that police were worried about capsizing and called on a 73-foot ice-cutting vessel to help haul fish ashore.
Police found more anchored gill nets near the first poaching site Tuesday evening and Wednesday, bringing in nearly seven tons of poached fish Wednesday.
There is no easy way to find the nets. Police pull grappler hooks through the water to find anchored nets.
"Fishermen can plug in the latitude and longitude in their GPS and leave," said Col. George Johnson IV, of the Maryland Natural Resources Police. "It's a lot harder for us to find."
Most of the poached rockfish measured about 28 inches long, though some were as large as 52 inches. It is illegal to keep rockfish over 36 inches and they are normally returned to the water.
But since many of the recovered fish were already dead when they were found, they could not be returned. By law, fishermen must stay within two miles of nets and all nets must be brought up by 6 p.m.
Poachers would have made tens of thousands of dollars on the illegally-caught rockfish.
Authorities said that the nets used on the poached fish could have been on the bottom of the Bay for about three days.
A few ducks and crabs were recovered in the nets, too.
Natural Resources Police are investigating the poaching but have not made any arrests.