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NRP Catches Convicted Oyster Poacher Violating Suspension

Natural Resources Police LogoMaryland Natural Resources Police today charged a Queen Anne’s County waterman crabbing near the Bay Bridge with violating the terms of a State order prohibiting him from engaging in any commercial fishing until next March.

“Two years ago, the Governor and General Assembly gave us new regulatory tools to better protect our natural resources and we are using them to great success,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “The other part of the equation is the continued participation and support of the public.”

Acting on a tip, officers observed Joseph Walker Benton, 24, of Centreville, working on his father’s boat about 10 a.m., pulling in crab pots.

Officers followed the boat to a Kent Island seafood outlet, where they cited Benton and seized eight bushels of crabs.

In 2011, Benton was convicted of harvesting oysters from the Sawmill Oyster Sanctuary and commercial oystering without a license. He was fined $1,650 and sentenced to seven months probation.

Following his conviction, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources suspended all his fishing privileges over portions of three years, with the period ending March 31.

“A poacher lines his pockets at the expense of law-abiding Marylanders. The public has had enough and is letting us know by calling NRP officers with solid tips,” said Johnson.

Citizens are urged to report illegal activities to the Catch-A-Poacher hotline at 1-800-635-6124.

In May 2011, Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law legislation to protect Maryland’s fisheries and encourage shellfish aquaculture.

As part of an overall focus on enforcement efforts to better protect Maryland’s public fishery resources, DNR also established a tougher penalty system for commercial fishing violations. Previously, a waterman had to receive multiple convictions before the department could impose a suspension; the new system allows the agency to impose suspensions for a single conviction. Additionally, the state increased the penalty for engaging in commercial fishing with a suspended license, a revoked license or without a license, by establishing a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to one year.