County Court To Hear DNR Cases

SNOW HILL — A pilot program aimed at stepping up enforcement and prosecution of illegal fishing, hunting and other natural resources-related cases has been expanded to Worcester, which will serve as the regional court of record for the Lower Eastern Shore.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the state’s Attorney General’s Office and the District Court of Maryland last week announced an expansion of a pilot program established in Anne Arundel County in January 2010. The program sets aside specific dates on the District Court docket in Anne Arundel County each week to handle cases involving hunting, fishing, poaching, boating and other natural resources-related cases.

After a successful first year-plus in Anne Arundel County, DNR officials last week announced the program is being expanded to Worcester. As a result, natural resources cases, including fishing, hunting, boating and even tree expert violations, from Worcester, Wicomico, Somerset and Dorchester counties will be heard in District Court in Snow Hill every Friday starting at 1 p.m.

A representative from the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Office will be on hand during each of the designated days as requested by arresting officers and only cases dealing with natural resources-related violations will be heard at that time. DNR Secretary John Griffin said this week changes in the state laws regarding natural resources and the subsequent increase in the number of cases necessitated the expansion of the pilot program.

“Our natural resources belong to everyone and we must all work together to ensure they are protected,” he said. “Those who violate the public trust must be prosecuted in an efficient manner to the full extent of the law and this program is an important mechanism in that effort.”

The program’s expansion is in direct response to an increase in the number of cases of striped bass harvests and poaching during last winter. In May, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law legislation to protect the state’s fisheries and encourage shellfish aquaculture among other things. As part of the overall effort, DNR also established a tougher penalty system for commercial fishing violations.

For example, previously a waterman had to receive multiple convictions before the DNR could impose a suspension, but under new state law, a suspension could be imposed for a single violation. State officials will monitor the new program in Worcester to determine if its expansion is necessary in other parts of the state.