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A First: Oyster Poacher Faces Felony Theft Charges in Aquaculture Case

Joseph Franklin Sullivan, 20, of St. Inigoes, was charged with theft of oysters from a private aquaculture site.

Joseph Franklin Sullivan

Maryland Natural Resources Police officers this week made three oyster poaching cases in southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore—including Maryland’s first felony aquaculture theft case.

Joseph Franklin Sullivan, 20, of St. Inigoes, has been charged with theft of oysters from a private aquaculture site off the Potomac River late last year. Sullivan was served on Thursday at the St. Mary’s County Detention Center, where he is being held pending trial on theft, drug and escape charges.

Earlier in the day, six members of the Natural Resources Police dive team searched a stretch of Smith Creek and a pier in front of Sullivan’s home in the 17000 block of Jutland Drive and recovered oysters, oyster shell and seed bags of the type used in aquaculture operations. The investigation is continuing.

This is the first time the Natural Resources Police has pursued an aquaculture case under criminal, rather than natural resources, law.

The thefts occurred from a shellfish lease in Calvert Bay. The lease, started in 2012, is farmed by J.D. Blackwell of 38-Degree North Oysters. On Nov. 24, Blackwell reported that eight cages were emptied of between 20 and 40 bushels of oysters. On Dec. 8, John Anthony Carbone of the Point Lookout Oyster Co., who also works on the lease, reported the theft of additional oysters from the area.

Sullivan is charged with two counts of theft of property worth between $10,000 and $100,000; one count of theft of property worth between $1,000 and $10,000; taking of leased oyster without permission; and destroying aquaculture.

The investigation is being reviewed by the St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney and a court date has not been set. If found guilty of all five charges, Sullivan could receive a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a fine of $27,000.


In Kent County, officers inspecting oysters at Fords Seafood in Rock Hall on Thursday found eight untagged bushels in a walk-in freezer.

Officers thought the oysters appeared to be undersized and began measuring them. They found the eight bushels contained between six percent and 41 percent undersized oysters.

The agent for the business, Nevitte Willis Ford Jr., 63, of Chestertown, received five citations and two written warnings.

He is scheduled to appear in Kent District Court on March 16. If found guilty of all five charges, he could be fined as much as $5,000.


Three watermen were charged on Jan. 7 with poaching oysters from a state protected area in Talbot County.

David Andrew Hambleton, 51, of Bozman; Daniel Dylan Hicks 22, of St. Michaels; and Thomas Edward McClyment, 27, of Bruceville, each received a citation for hand tonging oysters from the Howell Point Sanctuary, at the mouth of La Trappe Creek, a Choptank River tributary.

The three men are scheduled to appear in Talbot District Court on March 17. The citation carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and can result in suspension of a commercial license.

  • Where can i catch white perch surf fishing this time of year around salisbury md area.

    • kking13

      The white perch are going to settle in deeper water and feed less as the water temperature drops. I would recommend searching for places where warm water flows into the Choptank. Bait fish will come to the warmer water, and the white perch and striped bass will follow them. Your are more likely to catch a striped bass than a white perch this time of year.

      Warm flows can come from power plants, small shallow streams heated by the sun, and other sources.

      Winter is great time to fish for chain pickerel along brushy shorelines. They are fun to catch, but not as tasty or as easy to clean and cook as white perch.

      Happy Fishing!
      Joe Evans

  • Ronald G Miner Jr

    Looking him up on judicial case watch looks like he was convicted of a burglary in August. Why was this person not in prison for illegally entering someones dwelling? Maryland has a serious problem of not putting criminals in jail…

  • Ronald G Miner Jr

    You really do a disservice to watermen when you claim they are arrested as poachers..Real watermen would not poach…and poachers should never be allowed to be watermen…Once convicted they should lose their privilege to harvest any state natural resources for profit.. .

    • Russ

      Gathering oysters illegally is poaching, no matter what you do or who you are!! These guys did a disservice to their follow watermen!

  • Ronald G Miner Jr

    David Andrew Hambleton has 17 prior DNR offenses and yet still has his waterman’s license..WTF is wrong with the courts in this state?? Daniel D Hicks as 28 priors including many criminal offenses…again..WTF???

    • Kaila Gowe

      Andrew Hamilton has been on the water over 20 years. That is averaging less than one citation a year. The Hamiltons are a well known family in the commercial fishing business.. it’s a shame you are considered a poacher when all you are doing is trying to make a living. Do you know how many acres are out there? And we are allowed next to nothing to make a living on. That’s the side that the “outsiders” don’t see.

      • Bunda Bohica

        Making a excuse for law breaking…..This is exactly why the paocher needs to have his license revoked…to make an example to others who would do the same..

        • Kaila Gowe

          I agree certain people definitely should have their license revoked but perhaps not in this case. The point I’m trying to make is the law makes it sound so bad by using the term poaching when in all actuality that’s not what us being done. I do believe certain actions could be made to prevent so called “poaching”. Like I stated there are thousand of acres of bottom and the waterman are allowed to work a very minute percentage. They don’t realize that all this bottom that is not allowed to be worked there are oysters just dying. Also the bottom is not as clean due to lack of bring worked. There are a lot of things that only waterman see first hand because we are out there everyday. Some people really aren’t criminals they are just trying to make a living.

      • Greg

        I just love when “watermen” bitch about how much or where they can harvest a natural recourse.. They have nothing invested in the product but the means to get to it.. is.. Boat. Truck. Baskets.. They’re not farmers who own or lease the ground, till the ground with a half million dollar tractor. Purchase and plant the crops.. Oh and fertilize and maintain the crops… Give me a break.

        • icetrout

          use to be oysters everywhere in the Bay back in the 60’s till the Human Population Bomb went off… now there’s 1 % left in Big Poop Creek… :(