By Deanna LeBlanc
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Marine Police arrested four men on Wednesday for illegal poaching.
They were arrested at the Menchville Marina in Newport News. According to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, they were stealing oysters without licenses from public grounds near the Pagan River and public grounds near the Newport News Shipyard.
Since then, one of the men has already had his fishing license revoked. But, he isn’t alone.
So far this year, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission has revoked ten fishing licenses for a period of six months to up to two years from people they say were illegally harvesting oysters. Laurie Naismith with Virginia Marine Resources Commission said more people this year are already stealing oysters from public grounds without licenses, or are outright trespassing on private grounds.
Now, Virginia Marine Resources Commission and Virginia Marine Police plan to crack down on the poaching.
“This is a growing industry, it has taken years and millions of dollars of investment to get it back on it’s feet and we intend to keep it growing,” Naismith said.
She said this year alone, the state has seen a 25-percent growth in oysters. She credits strict regulation for the growth, but said poachers threaten the progress.
“If you poach, you’re going to pay, period,” Naismith said.
Oyster harvesting season doesn’t start until October 1. Naismith hopes that once it does, other watermen will help them police the precious waters.
“They say, you know, go watch this guy and see what he’s doing, because he’s not doing the right thing. There’s s a whole network out there,” Naismith said.
Right now, some poachers can face criminal penalties, but most lose their fishing license for up to two years. WAVY.com spoke with local watermen who wish the penalty could be tougher.
“There is a growing drum beat about increasing the penalties for this because it’s becoming too valuable and too important to people’s livelihoods and their jobs,” Naismith said.
She admits that would take work from the legislature, and that VMRC is looking into its options. Video.