By Christie Ileto
Crime bust on the Chesapeake Bay! Two Baltimore County men face nearly a million dollars in fines after they’re caught stealing hundreds of pounds of striped bass. It happened on the Patapsco River.
A rockfish poaching bust nets two watermen, Terry Myrick and John Messenger, landing them in hot water Tuesday.
“They exceeded their daily catch limit,” said Joe Offer, Maryland Natural Resources Police.
That limit is a fixed number set to protect the species because all rockfish or striped bass in the area are spawned in the bay.
Natural Resources police say officers caught the pair while doublechecking their catch. They intended to sell the stolen fish at market price.
“This is shocking because these are professionals. They know all the rules,” Offer said.
And because they didn’t play by the rules, police say the pair face fines in excess of $400,000. That’s a maximum fine of $2,500 per fish for exceeding their daily harvest by 532 pounds.
“The people that are going out there working honestly, it gives them a black eye,” said Robert Brown, president of the Watermen’s Association.
Three years ago, 13 million pounds of fish were found in poachers’ nets. State officials shut down the rockfish season early to protect the species from overfishing.
“It killed us. It killed our winter’s work,” a waterman said at the time.
And the Watermen’s Association says they’re not in the clear yet.
“The following year, we were deducted 10% of our catch in case somebody did break the law,” he said. “The next year it was down to five percent so it’s down to 2.5% this year.”
A hefty consequence for honest workers when those who cheat don’t fish by the rules.