By Rex Springston
Virginia’s public oyster season opens today, and authorities will be cracking down on what they call “an epidemic of poaching.”
The Virginia Marine Police will look for poachers by air, land and water, officials said Monday.
“We mean business. … Oyster poaching in Virginia will stop,” said marine police Chief Rick Lauderman.
The state has recently toughened penalties for oyster poaching. Among the punishments, a poacher can lose all saltwater fishing privileges.
Virginia’s oysters have been making a comeback in recent years. Unfortunately, poaching has also increased.
The marine police issued nearly 400 summonses for oyster poaching the past two years — three times more than in the previous two years.
“More oysters in the water may tempt some unscrupulous watermen,” said Jack Travelstead, commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. “If so, this is a warning. We will not allow these stocks to be plundered.”
The commission, based in Newport News, manages fish and shellfish in Virginia’s tidal waters. The marine police are the commission’s law enforcement division.
Poaching includes taking more than the daily 8-bushel limit of oysters, taking oysters from condemned waters, taking them from so-called “private grounds” that people lease from the state, taking them from oyster sanctuaries and taking them at night.
Night harvesting is prohibited to promote watermen’s safety and to aid enforcement.