Illegal poaching of fish and other sea life, known as maritime poaching, happens everyday all over the world. This winter, Maryland Natural Resources Police discovered more than 13 tons of poached striped bass, also called rockfish, in illegally anchored nets in the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Sacramento Bee.
The poaching finds led fisheries agencies to close rock fish season early this year. Natural Resources Police served search warrants related to the poaching but have not yet made any arrests.
The Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources is hoping to reduce the illegal fishing by launching a pilot program that would use GPS tracking systems to monitor the movements of commercial fishing boats.
GPS tracking systems discourage illegal fishing by allowing agencies to track commercial fishing boats that go into closed areas or operate during restricted times. They are being used increasingly across the United States and Canada but would be new to Maryland, according to Tom O’Connell, director of DNR’s fisheries service.
Installing a GPS tracking system would be voluntary for commercial fishermen. But, vessel monitoring systems may ultimately be required to discourage illegal fishing in Maryland. “The objective is to get greater compliance in the ability to enforce our fisheries management rules,” said Mr. O’Connell.
The new GPS tracking program will hopefully begin next year. “The idea is, before even considering this being a requirement in any of our fisheries, we should do a small-scale pilot program that’s voluntary so that we have the opportunity to experiment with different types of vessel monitoring systems,” O’Connell said.
The program would also get fisherman used to having a GPS tracking system installed on their boats, an idea many waterman have not been very fond of in the past. “I think that watermen in general have some concerns with the government being able to track their vessels’ movements,” O’Connell said.
Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said he is not bothered by the idea of having a GPS tracking system installed on his boats. “Nobody wants to have the government on your back all the time, but if we don’t do something, two or three bad apples are going to ruin the whole fishery for us… Most law-abiding watermen will be fine with the GPS tracking systems as long as it does not cost them anything,” Simns said.
For the pilot program, the Maryland DNR is looking at buying the tracking systems for participants with grant money, O’Connell said. But if tracking systems ever become a requirement, the industry will likely have to pay for them.