The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission remains concerned about striped bass poaching in both Maryland and federal waters, and is working on a comprehensive plan to combat fishing mortality in general, according to officials.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources discovered illegal drift nets and seized more than 12 tons of illegally caught striped bass in February. The commission, which regulates fishing along the East Coast, was briefed about the poaching situation at its March meeting in Alexandria.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, agents from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration searched several boats suspected of poaching fish from the Exclusive Economic Zone, the area 3â€“200 miles off shore that is considered federal waters.
The commission has been concerned about illegal fishing in the EEZ for more than a year, and recently wrote a letter to NOAA asking for bigger fines and more enforcement.
ASFMC spokeswoman Tina Berger said the commission’s law enforcement committee will put together an update on illegal striped bass fishing activity in the EZZ for the board to review in November.
Berger said there was no discussion at the last meeting of the EEZ issue, but the commissioners were briefed on the situation in Maryland.
“There are several ongoing investigations, and because of that, no one’s allowed to talk about it,” she said.
Several bills were introduced in the Maryland legislature this year to strengthen DNR’s enforcement and create stiffer penalties in the Maryland poaching cases.
The commission is also going to review its gear requirements to give the fishermen more latitude when common sense conflicts with regulations. In North Carolina, for example, a fisherman discarded 3,000â€“4,000 striped bass that he caught as bycatch because they were caught in a way regulations did not allow.
Bill Goldsborough, a commissioner who is also a senior fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the commission appreciated the briefings from natural resources officials in both Maryland and Virginia.
“I think they were suitably impressed with the way things have been handled in both states,” he said.