Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2011 6:30 pm | Updated: 7:57 pm, Thu Feb 17, 2011.
Maryland NRP discover 2 more tons of poached rockfish
TILGHMAN ISLAND - Another two tons of rockfish were found in anchored gill nets in the Chesapeake Bay late Friday afternoon February 11, 2011, according to police.
Friday's discovery of 3,879 pounds of rockfish in two 900-yard illegal nets found off the southern end of Kent Island brings the total poached rockfish seized by police in recent weeks to 12 tons.
Also on Friday, Maryland Natural Resources Police reportedly searched two houses, multiple boats and measured gill nets owned by watermen on Tilghman Island.
NRP spokesman Sgt. Art Windemuth said no arrests resulted from the searches.
Windemuth said the searches in Tilghman had nothing to do with the discovery of illegal gill nets found later that afternoon.
One of the nets was found 2 miles northeast of Bloody Point and the other a mile south of that location. Officers were still retrieving the fish Saturday morning.
Windemuth said he didn't think any of the fish could be released back into the Bay.
Asked why Bloody Point seems to be such a hot spot for so many illegal gill nets, Windemuth said the "proof is in the pudding."
"They're catching rockfish there," he said, noting that other anchored illegal gill nets have been found in the Choptank and Chester rivers, although those catches have included only a few fish. The NRP is investigating reports of other illegal gill nets found throughout the Bay, Windemuth said.
Windemuth said a 900-yard gill net likely costs about $2,000. If a poacher pulls up two tons of rockfish, at an average price of $3 a pound, that catch could be worth $12,000 locally, or as much as $36,000 elsewhere.
Windemuth said the price of rockfish per pound at the beginning of the season was $2.75 to $3.25 per pound.
"It's all depending on where it sold," he said.
Fishermen in Maryland are allowed to use floating gill nets that hang vertically in the water. The nets are visible on the water surface and are attended by watermen no more than a mile away. The illegal gill nets are anchored to the bottom by weights and are not attended or visible from the surface.
In discussing how many people could be involved in anchoring gill nets and pulling in the hauls, Windemuth said the 10 tons already hauled in took a dozen NRP officers 36 hours to pull in all the fish from the nets, noting that it "would be too much for one person to do this."
Windemuth said gill nets typically are stored on a workboat and would take a couple people to pull the net overboard when it is being placed and at least as many to haul in the catch.
"They're not likely to use a 16-foot boat to bring in two tons of fish," Windemuth said. "It would have to be a substantial boat with substantial manpower."
The searches in Tilghman come less than two weeks after NRP officers found 20,016 pounds of rockfish in anchored illegal gill nets near Bloody Point. On Feb. 7, NRP officers found another series of anchored illegal gill nets at the mouth of Eastern Bay with 1,159 pounds of rockfish.
The Department of Natural Resources closed this month's rock fish gill net season Feb. 4 because of the impact the illegal catches had on the state 354,318-pound quota. Watermen can only catch about 300 pounds of rockfish a day. There are about 200 active gill net fishermen in Maryland, according to DNR.
A reward for information has increased to $20,000 due to a donation made last week from the Chesapeake Bay Savers. Other groups donating towards the reward and posted by DNR are the Maryland Watermen's Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association (MSSA), the Maryland Charter Boat Association and the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA).
The NRP encourages people who have information about poaching to continue calling the catch-a-poacher hotline at 1-800-635-6124. Callers can remain anonymous.