Rockfish poaching busts like this one from a few years ago in St. Mary's County, Md. may carry harsher punishments later this year. Photo: DNR

Tougher Md. Rockfish Poaching Penalties Proposed

As the recreational striped bass season remains closed for two weeks to help protect the species, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announces plans to toughen up penalties for poachers who take undersized or out-of-season rockfish.

In a proposal made public Monday in the Maryland Register, DNR announced its plans to eliminate the option for anglers with striped bass violations to receive a 30-day suspension. Instead, all violators currently in the 30-day suspension tier would receive 90-day suspensions.

In its proposal, DNR says a 30-day suspension has proven “ineffective in discouraging illegal activity” and the administrative burden on the department isn’t worth the return.

DNR also wants to crack down on closed-season striped bass possession. In a closed season, anyone who is caught with 1-4 fish would receive a one-year suspension, 5-9 fish would warrant a two-year suspension, and anyone caught with 10 or more fish would be suspended for five years.

The agency says the added tiers for closed-season violations “is intended to recognize the increasing gravity of the offense when larger numbers of striped bass are kept out of season.” It will “…recognize the difference between keeping a small number out of season versus a larger number, which will ensure that more egregious offenders are punished in a more severe manner than less egregious offenders,” the agency writes.

The proposal comes as Maryland Natural Resources Police announce yet another rockfish poaching bust, this one taking place in June near the Kent Narrows drawbridge. Officers on patrol saw three men fishing on a boat and found a plastic bag containing nine undersized striped bass “hidden in a corner of the boat.” Three Montgomery County, Md. men, two from Gaithersburg and one from Hyattsville, were charged with exceeding the possession limit of one fish and with keeping undersized fish. Each man faces up to $3,000 in fines.

DNR is seeking public comment on the new penalty proposals between now and mid-August. The agency says it has already discussed the changes with the Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission and Tidal Fish Advisory Commission, who recommended moving forward.

You can visit DNR’s Changes to Fishing Regulations page for information about what has been proposed and how to submit comments. All comments must be received by 11:59 p.m. August 16, 2021.

DNR says the penalties will take effect sometime in 2021, but haven’t yet determined an exact date.

Meg Walburn Viviano