It's true. The discovery of illegal nets bulging with striped bass or a federal sting that brings down a poaching ring revs up the media coverage and pumps up the headlines while the activities of unscrupulous recreational anglers barely cause a ripple.
Why? It's like the difference between a six-car pileup and a fender bender. Both result in damage but only one causes rubbernecking and gridlock. Plus, no one is going to read endless stories about one angler cited for catching four fish instead of two. Miles of illegal net? Now, you’re talking.
That’s just a fact of life.
Yet each time there's a case of poaching on the commercial side, watermen complain that they are being picked on by people like me. Their argument is that reporters never go after anyone else.
Wise up. That why-are-you-picking-on-me misdirection play didn’t work when mom busted you and your friends for breaking the house rules, why should it work now?
The Maryland Watermen’s Association deserves a thumbs-up for contributing to the $30,000 reward to catch the bandits who netted 12 tons of striped bass and left them to die. And watermen who have been feeding tips to Natural Resources Police about the crooks in their midst are to be commended for speaking up in a culture that has long rewarded silence.
I can't speak for other reporters, but the whining about poaching coverage being one-sided is just rubbish.
Did I report on the illegal nets in February? Of course. Ditto poachers in oyster sanctuaries, convicted serial bandits like Joey Janda, and Potomac River watermen conspiring to scam the system to the harm of honest watermen.
But it doesn't stop there.
I filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get the paperwork on a certain Tilghman Island charter captain who was later convicted of poaching.
I've ridden with and written about NRP patrols when the only boats officers boarded belonged to recreational anglers.
Stories about the ongoing federal investigation of charter boats from Virginia illegally striped bass fishing in federal waters? Mine.
And don't tell me I buried the cases of the out-of-state anglers charged with fishing for striped bass out of season and in a spawning area that's off limits. You read it here first, second and last.
It's not a part of the outdoors that I like to cover, but I get paid to do it.
What would be nice? If the recreational committee--that's you, Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, and you, Pasadena Sportsfishing Group--issued a sizzling, scathing rebuke of poachers disguised as recreational anglers.
You know the ones. The guys who hide fish under a mountain of cooler ice or catch their daily limit in the morning and go back out in the evening. The guys who fish where they shouldn't and when they shouldn't. The guys who post online pictures of themselves posing with crap-eating grins while hoisting illegally caught fish.
Stand up and call them out. Drop a dime to NRP. Do it before an elected official holds a hearing to shame everyone who steals fish, oysters and crabs.
Coastal Conservation Association Maryland often writes letters to prosecutors and judges in cases that "shock the conscience," be they recreational or commercial.
In the cases of the anglers caught fishing out of season in a section of the Choptank River designated a protected striped bass spawning area, the group wrote a letter to Caroline County State’s Attorney Jonathan G. Newell on May 17, asking him "to make every effort to ensure they are found guilty and if so, an appropriate penalty imposed by the court. Whether they are a commercial or recreational angler, any person who abuses Maryland’s natural resources must be held accountable for their illegal actions."
Bravo. But where were the letters from the two other groups? And, for that matter, where's the Sport Fish Advisory Commission in all this?
This is fishing season. To be taken seriously, recreational anglers have to show they won’t put up with poaching by their own. To be credible, to be players at the table, they have to say it loud and they have to say it often.
And it has to start now.