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Two Watermen Charged with Harvesting Oysters in a Sanctuary

Oyster basketMaryland Natural Resources Police officers charged two Somerset County watermen Thursday afternoon with illegally harvesting oysters from a State sanctuary.

“I want to commend the leadership at DNR and NRP for developing a successful enforcement strategy that has resulted in the issuing of more than 75 citations for oyster violations to date,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “This season, we used officers along the shoreline, on the water and in the air to protect an essential species in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.”

Officers conducting surveillance watched as Michael David Sterling, 39, of Princess Anne, and William Ryan Arndt, 28, of Crisfield, entered the Kitts Creek Oyster Sanctuary in Pocomoke Sound at about noon and harvested eight bushels of oysters.

The sanctuary, approximately 1,180 acres, was set aside in 2001 to allow oysters to live longer, spawn without harvest pressure and develop a natural resistance to disease over time.

As the officers prepared to intercept the vessel at the public ramp on Rumbly Point Road, Sterling fled in the boat, leaving Arndt behind. Sterling ignored officers’ orders to stop.

Arndt was charged with harvesting oysters more than 150 feet inside a sanctuary and released.

Sterling turned himself in later in the day, but did not have the oysters with him. He was charged with harvesting oysters more than 150 feet inside a sanctuary, harvesting oysters less than 150 feet inside a sanctuary, possession of untagged oysters, failing to obey a police officer and eluding police.

A helicopter from the Maryland State Police aviation unit conducted a search for the oysters and the investigation is continuing.

Arndt and Sterling must appear in Somerset District Court on July 8. If found guilty, Arndt could be fined a maximum of $3,000. Sterling faces maximum fines totaling more than $4,500 and a possible one year in jail.

In addition to criminal penalties, in some cases the Department has the authority to impose administrative penalties, including license suspensions and permanent revocations.

Enhanced enforcement is a priority of Governor O’Malley and a major component of the Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan. This blueprint paved the way for the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN) system of radar units and cameras, a partnership between NRP and Maryland State Police, and specific natural resources dockets in 18 of 24 district courts to give these cases due attention and just rulings.