New Maryland Commercial Fishing – Aquaculture Regulations

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The State of Maryland has enacted several new regulations that pertain to commmercial fisheries and shellfish aquaculture.  According to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, the regulations are designed to deter harmful fishing activity by increasing penalties for oyster, blue crab, and striped bass poachers; authorizing Natural Resources Police (NRP) officers to inspect commercial fishing business’s storage areas; and streamlining penalty imposition processes.

Senate Bill 159 and House Bill 273 require the revocation (through an administrative hearing) of an individual’s commercial fishing license within 60 days of oyster poaching violations.

Similarly, Senate Bill 635 and House Bill 1154 require the revocation of an individual’s commercial fishing license if they are found by an Administrative Law Judge to have knowingly committed an egregious or repeat violation against striped bass or blue crabs including: using illegal gear; harvesting during closed seasons; harvesting from a closed area; violating established harvest, catch or size limits; or violating tagging and reporting requirements.

Senate Bill 655, along with House Bill 1225, increase the penalty for engaging in commercial fishing with a suspended license, a revoked license or without a license, by establishing a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to one year.  A higher fine and possible imprisonment will deter future violations resulting from fishing on a suspended commercial license.

Governor O’Malley also signed into law bills that will streamline administrative hearings for natural resource violations and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement officers.

Senate Bill 414 and House Bill 396 authorize NRP officers to inspect licensed commercial vessels, vehicles, and premises where Maryland fishery resources may be stored.  The new law also helps to modernize fisheries law enforcement by authorizing NRP officers to issue electronic citations, thereby enabling officers to spend a greater portion of their time doing law enforcement instead of administrative work.  The law also allows DNR to suspend or revoke a license after providing the opportunity for a hearing, thus preserving the rights of defendants while streamlining administrative enforcement and allowing the NRP to focus on new cases.

The Governor also signed several bills consistent with Maryland’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan to encourage shellfish aquaculture business growth.

Senate Bill 847 and House Bill 1053 will streamline the aquaculture permitting process by consolidating and transferring several important aquaculture functions within one State agency.  DNR will now coordinate all aquaculture permitting, issue water column leases, and staff the Aquaculture Coordinating Council and Aquaculture Review Board.

Finally, House Bill 208 allows the Department to lease barren areas located within oyster sanctuaries for aquaculture.  This law increases opportunities for new and growing small businesses engaged in oyster aquaculture.  The expansion of aquaculture areas along barren submerged land will also increase natural disease resistance in the wild oyster population, create localized water quality improvements, create more oyster shell habitat, and enhance the natural recruitment of baby oysters within sanctuaries.

source: MD DNR

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