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Fishermen get together to help protect bay North East resident founded group


The northern Chesapeake Bay needed a voice, and Bill Windley gave it one.

Mr. Windley, 48, is president of the Northern Bay chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, which he founded to protect the rights of the recreational fisherman and to preserve the bay. The North East resident has been a recreational fisherman for 25 years.

"There's no place I'd rather be then out on the Chesapeake Bay in my boat," a 16-foot Key West, Mr. Windley said. "It's a beautiful resource that needs protection."

Mr. Windley invited about 20 fishermen to his house in January because he was concerned about the bay.

He said he wanted to organize a group that would help protect wetlands and fish species in the bay. The chapter has 400 members, about 80 to 100 of them from Harford County, he said.

The chapter was formed to defeat a bill before the General Assembly that would have expanded the use of haul-seine nets in the Susquehanna River flats, said Mike Benjamin, 26, co-owner of Herb's Bait and Tackle in North East.

Because the bottom lines of those nets are weighted with lead, they destroy the fragile grasses on the bottom of the bay, he said. The grasses are vital to the health of the bay because they provide a habitat for aquatic life.

The bill was defeated. The nets still are used in half of the river's flats.

The association also supports conservation and holds community events to support recreational fishermen and work for the betterment of the Chesapeake Bay, Mr. Windley said.

The association's environmental committee is working to plant more bay grasses, such as wild celery and hydrilla, he said.

"We are a group of fishermen that have watched the progressive decline of three marine species over a period of 15 years. There's been sea trout in the Delaware Bay, bluefish along the Atlantic Coast and rockfish in the Chesapeake," said William Waegel, 45, a member of the association from Media, Pa. Mr. Waegel is chairman of the sociology department at Villanova University in Philadelphia.

Fishing regulations need to be changed, association members said, because there are not enough of those species for them to sustain themselves.

Mr. Windley said that most members of the group do not keep fish, returning 99 percent of their catch to the bay. It is commercial fishing that is depleting fish stocks, he said.

The chapter held its first event last month, when members helped the Cecil County Boy Scouts clean three miles of beach in Elk Neck State Park.

Bel Air resident Bob Holley said he joined the chapter to keep up with legislation about the bay and sportfishing and crabbing. He said he enjoys reading articles in the newsletter about different fishing techniques.

Anyone who fishes the upper bay may attend chapter meetings, which are the last Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Poor Jimmy's Restaurant at routes 40 and 272 in North East.

Dues are $15 a year, and funds also are raised through garage sales, raffles and fishing tournaments, Mr. Windley said.

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