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NRP Aggressively Enforces Striped Bass Conservation Measures along the Atlantic

NRP officer monitors fishing activity off Ocean City using MLEIN

NRP officer monitors fishing activity off Ocean City using MLEIN

Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) officers checked a record number of Atlantic coast recreational anglers and commercial fishermen in December and January as part of enforcement efforts to support striped bass conservation measures.

Warm weather, calm seas and an abundance of fish in December enticed anglers and watermen to the waters off Ocean City. As a result, NRP checked more than 550 recreational anglers (vs. 283 in December 2013), 95 charter boats (vs. one) and 15 commercial fishermen (vs. three).

Officers logged nearly 200 vessel hours and more than 70 hours of foot patrol at area boat ramps and marinas. That compares with 71 sea hours and 61 dock patrol hours in December 2013.

“Aggressive patrols and an outstanding working partnership with our Delaware counterparts, the Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service allowed NRP to really drive home the message that we are serious about striped bass conservation,” said Frank Dawson, Acting Secretary, Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Beginning this month, the daily striped bass creel limit in Maryland’s coastal waters dropped from two fish per person to one fish per person. Size limits remained at a minimum size of 28 inches per fish, with no maximum size. Both Virginia and Delaware also are implementing measures to achieve the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) required 25 percent harvest reduction.

To support ASMFC’s conservation efforts, NRP officers continued stepped up enforcement in January even though the number of fish and temperatures plummeted. During the first three weeks, officers checked more than 56 recreational anglers (vs. 34 in all of January 2014), 16 watermen (vs. 25) and 59 charter fishermen (vs. 0). They also conducted inspections of eight seafood markets and distributors. Officers logged more than 70 vessel and 100 dockside foot patrol hours.

Patrols have been centered on fishing hot spots in Maryland waters that extend three nautical miles from shore and federal waters, called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), from three miles to 200 miles where striped bass fishing has been banned since 1990. Officers have been deputized to enforce federal fishing laws for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Enforcement efforts have been enhanced by two new tools this season. The radar system known as the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network allows officers using laptops to monitor fishing activity beyond the horizon. The addition of NRP 150, the agency’s largest vessel stationed in Ocean City, provides a platform for long patrols in deep-sea waters.

“MLEIN has been used successfully on the Chesapeake Bay since October 2013 to protect oyster sanctuaries from poaching, so it was only natural to extend its use last year to the Atlantic Ocean, where we can use it to monitor the EEZ and protect striped bass,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “NRP 150 employs the latest technology to not only add muscle to our enforcement strategy but also to enhance search-and-rescue missions.”

NRP 150 was acquired through a cooperative enforcement program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fishery Service. The 28-foot vessel entered service last summer. It can patrol for six hours at a cruising speed of 30 knots and has a top-end speed of 47 knots, or more than 50 mph.

“We are pleased to see that the vast majority of Maryland’s coastal anglers and commercial fishermen have taken conservation measures to heart,” said Johnson. “We will continue our aggressive patrols to ensure protection of our valuable striped bass resource for all Maryland citizens.”