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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.

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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.

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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.


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