NRP Boosts Enforcement as Oystering Kicks into High Gear
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NRP Boosts Enforcement as Oystering Kicks into High Gear

New radar network provides 24-hour coverage

With the most active part of Maryland’s six-month oyster season opening tomorrow, Natural Resources Police (NRP) is employing a three-pronged approach to catch poachers with stepped-up patrols on water and in the air augmented by the latest detection equipment.

“This Governor has a message for oyster outlaws: The days of playing cat-and-mouse games with conservation law enforcement officers are dwindling. We will find you and put you out of business,” said Col. George F. Johnson, NRP superintendent.

Officers riding as observers in Maryland State Police helicopters will be covering vast swaths of water, looking for poachers working off-hours, doubling limits and harvesting in protected areas.

Before sunrise, saturation patrols will be blanketing oyster bars and sanctuaries known to attract illegal activities.

Helping to guide both efforts is NRP’s newest weapon, a web of radar units and cameras called MLEIN ─ Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network. The state-of-the-art system allows land- and water-based officers to establish invisible “picket lines” around sites that alert them when protect areas are breached.

“MLEIN is a force multiplier, expanding our reach and acting as another set of eyes for our officers,” Johnson said. “Make no mistake. We are always watching.”

Johnson emphasized that citizens can play a vital part in the effort, too, by anonymously calling the Catch-A-Poacher hotline with tips: 800-635-6124.

State law permits power dredging from November 1 through the end of March in designated areas of Calvert, Dorchester, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Wicomico counties. Oysters must be a minimum of three inches. The daily limit for power dredging is 12 bushels per person, not to exceed 24 bushels per boat.

Historically, three-quarters of all citations issued by NRP are for undersized and unculled oysters. As the holidays approach, the demand for oysters increases, and with it, the temptation to satisfy the market.

“Law-abiding watermen who work long, hard hours to make a living find themselves being punished by poachers who care only for their own profit,” Johnson said. “Enforcement helps level the playing field.”

Enhanced enforcement is one of the goals under Governor Martin O’Malley’s 10-point Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan. In 2011, he signed a sweeping law that included stricter penalties for both egregious first-time and serial offenders.

Last month, the Governor announced that a record 1.25 billion spat produced at the University of Maryland Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge had been planted, mostly in oyster sanctuaries. These sanctuaries help rebuild the native oyster population and improve water quality.

Contact: Candy Thomson
NRP Public Information Officer
410-260-8893 office I 410-279-3916 cell