Oyster Poachers Convicted, Radar Caught ‘Em

MLEIN radar photo of oyster poachers in Somerset Sanctuary in Tangier Sound
Picture courtesy Maryland Natural Resources Police

This is a picture of two Somerset County watermen poaching oysters from the Somerset Sanctuary in Tangier Sound, according to Maryland officials. The men were found guilty March 10th. It was the first test of the new radar system by the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

The system, called the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN), came across a vessel moving in and out of the state sanctuary on November 25th. The sanctuary was set aside by the state to protect and replenish Chesapeake Bay oysters.

An officer on land saw the boat moving toward the sanctuary shortly before 8am, and continued to watch it on his laptop’s radar screen. He watched the vessel go in-and-out of the sanctuary four times, and motor in a circular fashion, indicating they were dredging oysters. They ran for it when the officer tried to intercept them, dragging the dredge in the water behind them.

The recorded radar and camera information was used in the trial. Last oyster season was its first use. This month was the first time the state was able to provide it as evidence in a trial, and the judge accepted MLEIN’s validity.

“As we refine and expand its (MLEIN) capabilities, and officers grow more comfortable working with it,” says Col. George Johnson, MNRP superintendent, “we are confident the result will be more arrests and more convictions of poachers who steal Maryland’s natural resources.”

The district judge convicted the pair caught on the boat and ordered Captain William Catlin, 64, of Upper Fairmont to pay a $1,000 fine and the mate, Irving Catlin, 55, of Westover, to pay a $450 fine.

Despite the watermen’s denials, Judge Paula Price said, “it is clear to this court that you were in and out of the sanctuary, oystering.” She dismissed their claims that it’s hard to stay outside the protected area. “If you’re afraid of drifting,” the judge said, “then don’t go anywhere near one.”

Story courtesy of Maryland Natural Resources Police

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