Police discover 10 tons of illegally caught rockfish in Chesapeake Bay

Aerial photographs reveal a breathtaking view of the Chesapeake Bay watershed -- and its fragile future.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 9:56 PM

Ten tons of rockfish were caught this week in the Chesapeake Bay, where the legal limit is 300 pounds a day.

It was a staggeringly high illegal fish kill in a short period of time, and on Friday Maryland officials announced aggressive steps to stop it.

Step 1: Shut down the February season for rockfish fishing with lethal gill nets.

Step 2: Offer a $7,000 reward to anyone who can help put the poachers in jail.

Step 3: Tightly enforce the quota system for fish catches.

"We seized over 20,000 pounds. That means these poachers are stealing 66 days of work from watermen," said Tom O'Connell, fisheries service director at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

State police who patrol the bay and its tributaries announced Tuesday the discovery of a poacher's gill net containing three tons of rockfish near Bloody Point Lighthouse, between Queen Anne's and Talbot counties. The largest catch uncovered by a lone patrol in at least 25 years was so big that an icebreaker was called in to haul it.

But Wednesday and Thursday, police in boats came upon more sunken gill nets, also in the vicinity of the isolated lighthouse, with illegal catches totaling seven tons. Under law, gill nets must be monitored by fishermen and must flow with the tide rather than be anchored.

Rockfish, also known as striped bass, and blue crabs have virtually disappeared in the past before being restored.

The clam population is currently low.

"The people of Maryland have invested far too much time, effort and money into restoring striped bass, our state fish," said Secretary of Natural Resources John R. Griffin.

Anyone with information about these crimes is asked to call the department's Catch-a-Poacher Hotline at 800-635-6124.

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