Two Tilghman Island watermen will be paying Maryland between $498,293 and $929,625 for poaching striped bass (also called rockfish and stripers) in the Chesapeake Bay. They also agreed to forfeit up to 80 percent of the value of their boat, and still face up to five years in prison.
Michael D. Hayden, age 41, and William J. Lednum, age 42, both of Tilghman Island, pleaded guilty Friday, August 1, in U.S. District Court to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and to defraud the United States.
Both Hayden, 41, and Lednum, 42, were captains who employed a number of helpers to illegally catch and sell at least 185,925 pounds of striped bass between 2007 and 2011.
Prosecutors say they would leave illegal weighted nets and gill nets in the water overnight and off-season. That enabled them to pull-in huge amounts of fish. They’d put the overload on another boat, or paid another waterman, to check-in the fish for them.
Hayden and Lednum would also over-report the number of striped-bass they caught on their boats but under-report the weights. That enabled them to get additional state fishing tags.
The pair sold an estimated 185,925 pounds of fish to wholesalers in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, making $498,293 during the five years investigated.
“These defendants admitted to systematically plundering the Chesapeake Bay of an important and protected natural resource, and at the expense of the many honest fishermen who play by the rules,” says Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
They were caught in February 2001 when Maryland National Resources Police on patrol off Kent Island found tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass snagged in illegal, anchored nets before the season officially reopened.
Police originally thought they’d caught a simple poacher, but then uncovered a much wider scheme.
Maryland officials say none of the fish was property reported. Those numbers are important because they’re used to set harvest levels all along the Eastern Seaboard.