Maryland Cites More Watermen for Fishing Violations
Monday, March 9, 2009
As police tell it, waterman Dan Dierker was out on the Eastern Shore's Chester River before dawn, illegally trying to catch rockfish. When a Maryland Natural Resources officer boarded his boat that December morning, he cut loose an illegal gill net, police said.
Dierker, an Eastern Shore resident, is scheduled for trial this month. In an interview, he wouldn't say whether the police accusations are true. But he did say he recently had to clean out his checking account "to keep them from taking my car."
"I'm definitely not trying to be a criminal," said Dierker, 30. "I'm trying to eat."
From 2006 to 2008, the number of fishing-related tickets issued in Maryland increased nearly 50 percent, from 1,023 to 1,527 a year. Officials attribute the surge to more vigorous enforcement and the slumping economy.
As fish, crab and oyster populations dwindle and side jobs on land dry up, some normally honest watermen are finding less-than-honest ways to make ends meet, officials said. In increasing numbers, they are telling officers that tough times have driven them to violate laws intended to guarantee the health of the waters they fish.
"When you've got your house payment coming due, your truck payment comes due, your kid has to have braces, all of those things, it's just economics," said Capt. Bob Davis, adjutant to the superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police. "When you're backed against the wall -- and all of us are now -- you're looking for a way to make it through."
In Virginia, however, the number of fishing citations declined 17 percent, from 1,783 to 1,479 a year, from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2008. Officials theorized that the economy and high gas prices kept people off the water last year, leaving fewer fishermen for police to ticket.
The District does not have a commercial fishing industry or comparable enforcement efforts.
In Maryland, violations classified as "striped bass-related" or "possibly striped bass-related" are driving the increase (striped bass is another name for rockfish). Natural Resources police officers issued 139 such tickets in 2006 and 172 such tickets in 2007. Last year, they issued 350.
Eric Schwaab, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said higher-ups have given officers a clear directive since 2006: Your time is to be spent on the water.
"I think that's been the pretty consistent enforcement message," he said. "We are particularly determined when these resources are more stretched than ever."
Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said his organization has pushed for more vigorous enforcement, which he said prevents honest fishermen from being squeezed by dishonest ones, who catch more fish than allowed and diminish future populations.