Oyster Poachers Found Guilty with Help of New Radar Network
In the first major courtroom test of the Maryland Natural Resources Police’s newest enforcement tool, two Somerset County watermen were found guilty Monday of harvesting oysters from a State sanctuary.
Officers used the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN), a radar and camera system, on Nov. 25 to track a vessel moving in and out of the Somerset Sanctuary in Tangier Sound. They subsequently charged William Cloyde Catlin and Irving Lee Catlin with dredging in the protected area.
District Judge Paula Price ordered the vessel’s captain, William Catlin, 64, of Upper Fairmount, to pay a $1,000 fine ─ $550 above the preset fine ─ and the mate, Irving Catlin, 55, of Westover, to pay a $450 fine. She gave them 30 days to appeal.
“When we launched our initiative in 2010 to restore Chesapeake Bay oysters, we included a tough conservation law enforcement component to protect this invaluable resource and let Marylanders know our commitment was rock solid,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “I’m pleased the court recognizes the importance of this effort.”
After viewing images recorded by the MLEIN system, Judge Price ruled that despite the watermen’s denials to the contrary, “it is clear to this court that you were in and out of the sanctuary, oystering.”
“We are grateful to the court for accepting the use of MLEIN in our conservation law enforcement efforts and to Governor O’Malley for supporting the development of this system,” said DNR Secretary Joe Gill.
Judge Price noted that William Catlin has a history of crabbing, oystering and fishing violations dating back to 1982, and that Irving Catlin has natural resources convictions going back to 1979.
She dismissed the watermen’s claims that it is sometimes difficult to stay outside the protected area and offered a suggestion: “If you’re afraid of drifting into a sanctuary then don’t go anywhere near one.”
The incident began shortly after 8 a.m., when an officer on land watched on his laptop as the Catlins crossed the boundary of the sanctuary, which is set aside by the State for oyster replenishment. The officer moved to his patrol boat to intercept them, all the while tracking their path on MLEIN.
During four passes inside the sanctuary, the watermen’s boat motored in a circular pattern, indicative of an oyster dredging operation. The officer sped to the location as the work boat attempted to flee the sanctuary with its dredge still in the water.
NRP was able to retrieve the data from MLEIN that was used as evidence.
MLEIN, adapted from the Pentagon’s geo-fencing initiative, became fully operational last fall. Each of the units in the network is able to cover up to 20 miles on the Chesapeake Bay, reaching from the mouth of the Susquehanna River to the Virginia state line.
“This is MLEIN’s first full season on the Bay, acting as an extra set of eyes for our officers,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “As we refine and expand its capabilities, and officers grow more comfortable working with it, we are confident the result will be more arrests and more convictions of poachers who steal Maryland’s natural resources.”
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Office of the Attorney General and the District Court of Maryland have expanded a successful program highlighting natural resources cases to 18 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions. Under the program, cases including fishing, hunting, boating and tree expert violations are heard on a specific day each month in the region where they occurred, and prosecuted by a designated regional State’s Attorney. NRP is working to have natural resource dockets put in place in the remaining six areas ─ Frederick, Harford, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Washington counties, and Baltimore City ─ by 2015.