By Jack Shaum
ANNAPOLIS — Legislation to reduce penalties for first-time offenders of the state’s oyster poaching regulations has received a favorable report from a Maryland State Senate committee.
SB 696, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, was approved with amendments by the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Committee, less than a week after a committee hearing on the bill March 10.
The legislation is cross-filed with HB 1036, sponsored by Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, which also received a favorable report with amendments from the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
Hershey said the legislation is supported by the commercial waterman industry and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
He said that under current law, anyone with a license to harvest oysters who is convicted of violating oyster poaching regulations, has their license revoked for life.
“I have always believed that taking away a person’s chosen means of earning a living is an extremely harsh punishment. Under current law, that is exactly what happens when a waterman’s license to catch oysters is revoked,” he said.
The legislation reduces the penalty for a first offense of oyster poaching regulations to a one-year suspension, provided that the person in question has not violated any DNR-regulated fishing laws during the previous five years. If there are violations within the previous five years, DNR may revoke the license, according to the two bills.
“I feel the punishment should fit the crime,” Hershey said. “I can’t think of any other business where the violation of an industry regulation would result in a lifetime ban.
“Passage of SB 696 will make a much needed change to the strict and overly punitive punishments currently permissible by DNR,” he added.
Jacobs said he was approached by local watermen who were concerned about the existing penalties.
“It really left nothing to a judge but a revocation,” he said. “There are not a lot of cases, but it’s needed.”
“This gives the judge some movement. He or she may suspend or revoke, not shall,” he said.
Hershey said that DNR has revoked 14 commercial oyster licenses under the current law since its enactment in 2011.