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DNR police roll out newest enforcement vessel for OC

(May 9, 2014) Get your high-waist white suits ready for Miami Vice: Rockfish.

Last week, the Maryland Natural Resources Police rolled out its newest and largest-ever enforcement vessel dedicated to the Ocean City area, a key mission of which is to extend the NRP’s range for enforcing regulations on Maryland’s state fish, the striped bass, also known as the rockfish.

“We’re battling constantly with illegally sized fish,” said Col. George Johnson.

The new 28-foot vessel will be able to deal with a number of coastal emergencies, such as search-and-rescue and medical missions. But it’s most routine function will be enforcing size and catch limits for local fisheries.

The NRP did not pay for the boat, Johnson noted, but rather it was purchased as part of a cooperative enforcement program the department participates in with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS).

“We submit to the feds what we use the money for, and obviously this year it was for this boat,” Johnson said. “They’ve been very good partners for us.”

In return, the NRP offers in-kind help by assisting federal agencies with enforcement of federal regulations, particularly relating to fishing. NRP officers are deputized by the federal government so that they have jurisdiction beyond just state waters.

“They offer to pay for people to work locally with their federal guy,” Johnson said. “We’ve worked with the federal investigator in several operations.”

Per federal law, states have jurisdiction of waters out to three miles from their coastlines. From three to 200 miles out is federal jurisdiction – known as the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ – and beyond 200 miles the oceans become international waters.

The major impetus for the purchase was having a vessel that would be much more practical for patrolling out into federal waters.

“We had been using 19- or 20-foot open-topped boats, which are not exactly pleasant to be in after a few hours in open ocean,” Johnson said.

The new boat will be able to cruise for up to six hours at 30 knots, with a top speed of 47. Electronics for infrared, radar, and sonar are still being installed, Johnson said, with the total price tag expected to come in to the high $200,000-range.

“It’s a tremendous help to us for search-and-rescue, ,where we’re often called to assist the Coast Guard” Johnson said.

The EEZ designation is a particular issue for striped bass, since the federal government has kept the fishery closed in federal waters since 1985. However, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission – the inter-state umbrella group which sets policy for most of the Mid-Atlantic, including Maryland – has allowed states to re-open their striped bass fisheries under certain regulations.

Venturing beyond three miles, into federal waters, is tempting for many fishermen due to the belief that larger striped bass, particularly migratory females, traverse these waters rather than coming closer to the coast.

Recreational fishing takes in the majority of the striped bass haul, with the ASMFC allotting 26 million pounds to recreation fishing on the east coast and 7 million to commercial.

However, Johnson noted, the Maryland NRP made one of its biggest fishing arrests ever in 2011, when officers discovered 6,000 pounds of rockfish in an illegal 900-yard gillnet in the bay between Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.

Such commercial-scale poaching is much less common in ocean waters, but the NRP continues to conduct regular enforcement to make its presence known.

“Has it happened a lot here? No. But we do want a consistent presence to they know we’ll be out there at any time,” Johnson said.

In December of 2011, for instance, this newspaper reported on six men being arrested in as many days in the waters off Ocean City for catching rockfish in the EEZ and bringing them back into Maryland waters.

“There are some people that are just mom-and-pop who don’t know the rules, and there are some people out there who will harvest whatever they want to just to make  a dollar,” said Lt. Scott Richardson, who supervises the NRP’s tri-county district for Worcester, Somerset, and Wicomico counties. “We have to deal with the whole gamut of violators.”

 

 

The Maryland Natural Resources Police have rolled out a new vessel for the Ocean City district, targeted toward search-and-rescue operations as well as striped bass fishing enforcement.

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