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NRP Charges Five Watermen with Oyster Poaching

The Maryland Natural Resources Police charged five Queen Anne’s County watermen Wednesday with illegally taking 51 bushels of oysters from a protected area near the mouth of the Wicomico River within Tangier Sound.

Acting on a tip, officers used the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN) − a series of radar units and cameras − to track several work boats patent tonging in the remote 69-acre Evans Oyster Harvest Reserve Area. Once officers established and recorded the boats’ activities, they moved in and issued citations.

“The message is out,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “Whether it’s patrolling the waters, checking seafood trucks on the highways and back roads, or conducting surveillance from the air with MLEIN, we will do whatever is necessary within the law to protect Maryland’s natural resources.”

Ryan Daniel Baxter, 20, of Queen Anne, was charged with one count each of harvesting oysters from an oyster reserve area and possession of unculled oysters, and two equipment violations.

Benjamin Leonard Reihl, 26, of Rock Hall, and Adam Vincent Reihl, 21, of Church Hill, were charged with harvesting oysters from an oyster reserve area and possession of unculled oysters.

The three watermen are scheduled to appear in Somerset District Court on May 13.

Harvey Thomas Bowers, 49, of Chestertown, and George Albert Lee, 45, of Dominion, were charged with harvesting oysters from a oyster reserve area and failure to tag oysters prior to leaving the oyster bar. They are schedule to appear in Somerset District Court on June 10.

The oysters were seized and returned to the Evans harvest reserve.

The 2010 Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan fostered by Governor Martin O’Malley contained a robust enforcement component to protect these resources and their habitat.

Reserve areas are set aside by Department of Natural Resources regulations for special management. With less than one month left in the season, most oyster bars have very few market-sized oysters left. Opening a few areas late in the season gives watermen more bottom on which to work.  These areas typically provide a boost in harvest for a few days at a time, when bushel prices are high.

Nine managed reserve areas were scheduled to open for harvest on March 7, but at the request of the Somerset County Oyster Committee, Evans Bar was delayed until March 24.

“These watermen apparently chose not to wait,” said Johnson. “Watermen who jump the gun deprive hard-working, honest watermen a chance to harvest.”

State records indicate that over the past six years, Benjamin Reihl has been convicted of numerous oyster and fishing violations, including fishing without a commercial license. He failed to appear in St. Mary’s District Court last fall on a charge of taking oysters from a sanctuary.

Court records show Adam Reihl also is facing October 2013 charges in St. Mary’s County of possession of a harvest containing 15 percent undersized oysters and failure to appear in court.

Bowers has been found guilty of two dozen oyster, crab and clam violations dating back to 1992, records show. Lee has been found guilty of several natural resources violations.

Candy Thomson
Natural Resources Police
Public Information Officer
office: 410-260-8893 cell: 410-279-3916