ANNAPOLIS — State Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R-36-Upper Shore, has introduced Senate Bill 696, which will lessen the severity of penalties for first time offenders of the state’s oyster poaching regulations. This legislation has been cross-filed with Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent.
According to Hershey's office, the bill has the support of both the commercial watermen industry and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Under current law, the penalty for an individual with a license to catch oysters convicted of violating oyster poaching regulations is a lifetime revocation of the license, the release states. According to the DNR, the state has revoked 14 commercial oyster licenses under the current law since its enactment in 2011.
“I have always believed that taking away a person’s chosen means of earning a living is an extremely harsh punishment," Hershey said in a statement. "Under current law that is exactly what happens when a waterman’s license to catch oysters is revoked.”
Hershey's proposal revises the penalty for a first offense of any of the five oyster poaching regulations to a one-year suspension, provided the convicted person has not violated any DNR regulated fishing laws within the previous five years. If the person has previously violated any of these regulations within the last five years, then DNR may revoke the license.
Hershey said affected violations under the law include: taking oysters located more than 200 feet within a closed or prohibited area; taking oysters with a power dredge in an area reserved for another type of gear; taking oysters outside of a time restriction for the harvest of oysters by more than one hour; taking oysters during closed seasons; and taking oysters from leased area by a person other than the leaseholder or the leaseholder’s designee.
“I feel that punishment should fit the violation. I can’t think of any other business where the violation of an industry regulation would result in a life-time ban. Revocation of a license to catch oysters for a first violation is outside the boundaries of fair and reasonable. Passage of SB 696 will make a much needed change to the strict and overly punitive punishments currently permissible by DNR,” Hershey said.