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NRP Arrests Four Watermen with Help from State Police Helicopter

 An NRP officer (right) directs the State Police helicopter flight team toward a target.

An NRP officer (right) directs the State Police helicopter flight team toward a target.

Using a State Police helicopter as a surveillance platform, the Maryland Natural Resources Police caught four watermen last Friday harvesting oysters from a protected area in Somerset County.

The watermen, aboard three commercial boats, were charged with removing oysters from the Evans Harvest Reserve, a remote 69-acre site at the mouth of the Wicomico River and Tangier Sound.

“Our ongoing partnership with the Maryland State Police expands our patrol capabilities to more effectively deploy our resources. In this case, the helicopter allowed us to track the vessels as they worked in the reserve and keep them in sight until additional assistance arrived,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “We want to thank State Police Aviation for helping us protect Maryland’s bounty.”

The law enforcement collaboration is a major component of Governor Martin O’Malley’s  2010 Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan to protect these resources and their habitat.

Reserve areas are set aside by Department of Natural Resources regulations for special management. With two weeks 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.

An officer stationed in the State Police helicopter at 9:20 a.m. could see the four buoys that mark the corners of the reserve and observed three vessels patent tonging inside the boundaries. Using a high-powered camera in the helicopter’s nose, the officer relayed the names of the vessels and their locations to nearby a patrol boat.

When the watermen realized they were being watched, they powered out of the reserve, their vessels’ anchors still in the water. They were intercepted by an NRP patrol boat and ordered to return nine bushels of oysters to the reserve.

Philemon Thomas Hambleton IV, 25, and John Eric Hambleton, 50, both of Bozman, and Carl Stenger Jr., 67, and Jose Collazo, 25, both of Rock Hall, were charged with illegally harvesting oysters from a State reserve.

Maryland court records show that Philemon Hambleton has been found guilty of a four natural resources violations dating back to 2001, most of them involving undersized oysters. Since 2002, Stenger has been found guilty of seven oystering, clamming or crabbing violations and was charged on Feb. 11 with possession of undersized oysters.

All four watermen are scheduled to appear in Somerset District Court on June 10.

Also on Friday, NRP officers charged a Dorchester County waterman with five violations of oyster regulations and ordered him to return three bushels of oysters to Fishing Bay.

Roy Wayne Meredith Jr., 45, of Toddville, was issued citations for power dredging in a hand tonging area, for power dredging outside the power dredging zone and for harvesting undersized oysters.

Meredith is scheduled to appear in Dorchester District Court on May 21.

The district courts in Somerset and Dorchester counties participate in a program that highlights natural resources cases on specific day each month as part of Governor O’Malley’s enhanced enforcement plan.