NRP Aggressive With Winter Striper Season Enforcement

OCEAN CITY — A robust winter rockfish season off the coast of Ocean City resulted in an aggressive, record-setting enforcement effort by the state and its federal counterparts, Department of Natural Resources officials announced this month.

Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) officers checked a record number of recreational and commercial anglers for potentially illegal striper fishing activities in December and January as part of increased enforcement efforts to support striped bass conservation measures. An unusually mild early winter, coupled with calm seas and an abundance of fish enticed anglers and watermen to the waters off Ocean City in December and January, but they were almost never out from under the watchful eye of state and federal fisheries enforcement officials.

In December alone, NRP officers checked over 550 recreational anglers, compared to 283 in December of 2013. The NRP also checked 95 charter boats off the coast of Ocean City in December, compared to just one in the same month last year. In addition, 15 commercial vessels were checked off the coast of the resort in December versus three in December of 2013.

NRP officers logged roughly 200 vessel hours and over 70 hours of foot patrol at Ocean City boat ramps and marinas in December. In December 2013, by comparison, NRP officers logged 71 sea hours and 61 dock patrol hours. In short, the very active winter rockfish season brought more than anglers to the resort area.

“Aggressive patrols and an outstanding partnership with our Delaware counterparts, the Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service allowed NRP to really drive home the message that we are serious about striped bass conservation,” said Acting DNR Secretary Frank Dawson this week.

In January, the striped bass regulations in Maryland tightened including a decrease from two legal fish per person to one legal fish per person, while the minimum size limit remained at 28 inches. As a result, the NRP continued its aggressive enforcement efforts off the coast of Ocean City.

As a result, during the first three weeks of January, NRP officers checked more than 56 recreational anglers at sea compared to 34 in January 2013 and 59 charter fishermen, compared to zero in the same month last year. The NRP also conducted inspections of eight seafood markets and distributors in the area and officers logged more than 70 vessel hours and 100 dockside foot patrol hours in January.

The NRP enforcement efforts were enhanced by two new tools this winter season. The radar system known as the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN) allows officers using laptops to monitor fishing activity beyond the horizon.

“MLEIN has been used successfully on the Chesapeake Bay since October 2013 to protect oyster sanctuaries from poaching, so it was only natural to extend its use last year to the Atlantic Ocean, where we can use it to monitor the EEZ and protect striped bass,” said NRP Superintendent Col. George Johnson IV.

In addition, NRP 150, the agency’s largest vessel stationed in Ocean City, provided a platform for long patrols in deep-sea waters. NRP 150 can patrol for six hours at a cruising speed of 30 knots and has a top speed of 47 knots or over 50 mph.

“We are pleased to see the vast majority of Maryland’s coastal anglers and commercial fishermen have taken conservation measures to heart,” said Johnson. “We will continue our aggressive patrols to ensure protection of our valuable striped bass resource for all Maryland citizens.”