OCEAN CITY – Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley last week signed into law several bills approved during the General Assembly session that will add more bite to fishing laws enforced throughout the state including Worcester County and Ocean City.
Last Friday, O’Malley officially enacted three pieces of legislation that will impose more serious penalties for fishing law violations in Maryland. Most of the new laws were borne out of recommendations from the governor’s Task Force on Fisheries Management, a 17-member panel made up of scientists, conservationists, recreational anglers, commercial watermen and charter boat captains among others formed in 2007 to study methods of increasing the effectiveness of the state’s fishery laws.
“Poaching and other illegal fishing activity amounts to stealing the valuable resources that are critical to maintaining healthy rivers and bays,” said O’Malley this week. “This legislation establishes much needed, more timely and consequential penalties necessary to prevent theft from and harm to the resources we hold in the public trust.”
The new fishery enforcement bills are far reaching and in most cases increase the penalties for violations. For example, House Bill 1355 allows the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to apply a reasonable commercial license suspension or revocation when someone is convicted of violating a commercial fishing law even if its was a first offense. Prior to the legislation, the DNR could not suspend or revoke commercial fishing license unless the individual incurred multiple convictions over a period of two to five years.
Another bill signed into law by the governor last week will hit fishing law offenders in the wallet. House Bill 1419 will increase the maximum allowable fine upon conviction from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense, and from $1,000 to $2,000 for subsequent convictions. The fines had not been increased since 1973. The bill also allows the DNR to impose restitution or other monetary penalties and authorizes the DNR to establish a list of monetary and ecological values for aquatic species.
Finally, Senate Bill 164 will give the DNR consistent authority to suspend recreational fishing privileges in both tidal and non-tidal waters across the state. The clearer, more consistent policy will give the DNR greater enforcement tools in the recreational fishing sector, according to DNR Secretary John Griffin.
“Violating the law is a crime and should be treated as such, whether the theft is bushels of oysters or blue crabs, or a television or stereo,” he said.