It took 8 years and several agencies to unravel a network responsible for poaching millions of dollars worth of striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay
December 04, 2010|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun
Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun
For years, crooked Maryland and Virginia watermen went to local courts and paid their fines for illegal fishing — $50, $100, $150 — and then went back to their boats to poach some more.
They considered it the cost of doing business, investigators say.
But a partnership of state and federal law enforcement officials changed the game. With the sentencing last week of the final player, the Interagency Wildlife Task Force laid waste to the largest commercial fish poaching ring in the history of the Chesapeake Bay.
The eight-year investigation snared watermen who caught striped bass out of season, exceeded their annual quotas and sold oversized fish, and wholesalers who knowingly bought the illegal fish and falsified records to hide the crimes.
In Elliott Ness style, a team of lawyers and officers built their cases on paperwork — much of it handwritten by the corrupt watermen and dealers — and weights and fish counts that didn’t add up. Undercover officers labored to infiltrate a closed society, where family names worked like membership cards. And they bypassed the local courts in favor of federal charges, before a no-nonsense federal judge.