Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Sustain, restore and conserve

Law Enforcement in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Striped Bass Law Enforcement Team Receives ASMFC Award of Excellence

Members of the Interstate Watershed Task Force (IWTF) received an Annual Award of Excellence in law enforcement from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)
May 5, 2009

Striped bass. Illustration by Duane Raver
Striped bass. Illustration by Duane Raver.

The members were honored for their successful ongoing investigation of the illegal harvest, sale and purchase of 600,000 pounds of striped bass from Chesapeake Bay and tributary waters of Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission with an estimated value of $3 million.

“I want to commend the work of this task force – including our Maryland Natural Resources Police officers - in helping to protect the Chesapeake striped bass population,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “These resources belong to the public trust and citizens throughout the region who treasure our fishery resources and iconic Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division led the IWTF, which included the agents and officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Marine Police, and Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Agents in the IWTF conducted undercover purchases and sales of striped bass from 2003 to 2006 to identify illegal activities. Seven law enforcement agencies and some 95 officers and agents, spanning three jurisdictions, searched two seafood businesses, five residences and other locations. In early 2008, they began detailed analysis of striped bass catch reporting and commercial business sales records from 2003 through 2007.

Out of concerns for accountability in the commercial striped bass fishery, states are taking action to address enforcement and harvest monitoring problems. For example Maryland updated striped bass tagging requirements to improve accountability of fish caught with different commercial gear types. Additional accountability regulatory measures include changes to improve quota monitoring, harvester accountability and enforceability of commercial striped bass harvest regulations.


Maryland Commercial Fishermen Plead Guilty to Illegally Overfishing Striped Bass
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Five St. Mary’s County, Md., commercial fisherman pleaded guilty today to illegally overfishing striped bass also known as rockfish.

The guilty pleas are the result of the investigation by an interstate task force formed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland Natural Resources Police and the Virginia Marine Police.  The task force conducted undercover purchases and sales of striped bass in 2003, engaged in covert observation of commercial fishing operations in the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River area, and conducted detailed analysis of catch reporting and commercial business sales records from 2003 through 2007.

Fishing limits in the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River are designed to protect the healthy sustainable population of striped bass and ensure a viable fishery up and down the eastern seaboard. Commercial fishermen who traffic in illegally harvested rockfish are undercutting an honest market and risking the continuation of the species.

Thomas L. Crowder Jr. of Leonardtown, Md.; John W. Dean of Scotland, Md.; Charles Quade of Churchtown, Md.; Thomas L. Hallock of Catharpin, Va.; and Keith A. Collins of Deale, Md., are all commercial fisherman operating in or near St. Mary’s County, Md., and the surrounding waters of the Chesapeake Bay. 

As commercial fishermen in Maryland, they were each subject to a maximum quota in pounds of striped bass that they were allowed to harvest in a year.  Each day’s harvest were required to be verified by a Maryland designated check-in station.  All striped bass caught by the defendants were required to be “tagged” with a plastic tag issued by the state.
From 2003 to 2007, the fishermen, with the help of a Maryland designated check-in station, failed to record or falsely recorded the amount of striped bass that each harvested.  In addition the check-in station certified a lower weight of striped bass than was actually caught. The defendants and the check-in station operator would also falsely inflate on these records the actual number of fish harvested. 

By under-reporting the weight of fish harvested, and over-reporting the number of fish taken, the records would make it appear that the defendants had failed to reach the maximum poundage quota for the year
They further concealed the striped bass over-harvesting and under-reporting by having seafood wholesalers provide false receipts for their striped bass sales, claiming that the sales involved different species of fish. They sold their illegal catch, with an estimated market value of at $2,150,000

This case was a great example of how cooperative law enforcements efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Maryland and Virginia can ensure that waterways are used in a lawful manner and resources are protected for current and future generations.

Crisfield Company Owner In Connection With Selling Illegal, Undersized Chesapeake Bay Crabs
October 2, 2007

Soft shell crabs
Photo of soft shell crabs

Isabel Dryden, owner of N.R. Dryden and Company Crisfield, Maryland pleaded guilty to selling illegal, undersized Chesapeake Bay crabs, in felony violation of the Lacey Act The Lacey Act prohibits the interstate sale of fish knowingly taken or possessed in violation of state law.

An investigation began after information was received that crabbers from Tangier Island, Virginia were selling soft shell blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay to seafood dealers in Crisfield, including N.R. Dryden and Company. Many of these crabs were found to be fewer than 3 ½ inches in length in violation of Maryland state law.

Posing as representatives from a business in West Virginia, Special Agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an officer from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources purchased 240 dozen crabs worth approximately $1,500 from Ms. Dryden, about 80% of which were undersized.

The company warehouse was searched and approximately 648 dozen undersized soft shell crabs labeled as “Cocktails” were seized, valued at approximately $3,888. Records seized during the search showed about $4,400 worth of undersized crabs were sold in 2005 and 2006.

Following the guilty plea, Dryden was sentenced to pay a $10,000 fine; forfeit the undersized crabs; allow increased access to her facility by U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents and inspectors from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police; and start training programs with her employees and notice measures with her suppliers, to prevent future violations of the Lacey Act.

Harvesting undersized crabs prevents the crabs from reproducing and jeopardizes the survival of the species



Last updated: November 16, 2009