'Buddy Regs' got ball rolling for new fishing penalty plan

The Baltimore Sun

Call them the Buddy Regs. What else do you give to the man who has everything because he takes what he wants?

Thanks to the fish-stealing antics of charter boat Capt. Buddy Harrison last summer - and the slap on the wrist he received as punishment - fired-up fishermen and fisheries officials agreed to revise Maryland's penalty system.

The proposed changes will be unveiled Tuesday night at the Department of Natural Resources' Annapolis headquarters. They are the product of more than six months of work by recreational anglers, watermen and charter boat captains.

The work group not only addressed the inadequacies highlighted by Harrison's poaching case, but also reviewed similar work done three years ago to fix what didn't work.

A tip of the cap to folks such as Ritchie Gaines, a fishing guide, Diane Baynard, a member of the Coastal Conservation Association, and Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, for being dedicated to getting it right.

Central to the Buddy Regs was reworking the citation used by Natural Resources Police and revising the fine and bond schedule, a system similar to one used for motor vehicle violations.

The citation, said DNR's Gina Hunt, was "the weak link" because there was no way to indicate the scope of the offense.

That became clear in Harrison's case. The self-proclaimed "Boss Hogg" of Tilghman Island and convicted goose poacher was caught with 31 striped bass under the legal length of 18 inches.

The officer who wrote up Harrison tried to indicate the seriousness of the offense by listing the size of the fish: nine fish at 14 1/2 inches, seven fish at 15 1/2 inches, 10 fish at 16 inches and five fish at 17 inches. But he then crossed out the information (not completely, thank you very much) because the citation didn't require it.

So Harrison, with three priors on his record, paid a fine of $310 - $125 for the offense, plus $5 for each illegal fish, plus $30 in court costs.

An aside: DNR didn't set the $5 fine; the chief judge of the district court system several years back lowered it from $120.

The work group is proposing a two-tier system that sets a $100 fine for up to three illegal fish and $50 for each additional fish.

"You didn't want to nail someone who made a mistake and had one illegal fish, but you wanted to get the ones who were doing it on purpose," Hunt said.

The fines would be tied to a revised point system, also similar to the one used for traffic violations.

Hunt will describe the particulars at Tuesday's meeting.

The proposal isn't perfect. For example, the point system and license suspension do not yet apply to charter boat captains.

Hunt said the work group ran out of time to tackle the issue of violations on headboats. Questions have been raised about the fairness of a captain being responsible for the actions of a large number of anglers with their own coolers vs. a charter boat trip with a much smaller group and a central fish box.

"We didn't want to hold up the whole package until fall," Hunt explained. "We decided to meet with the [Maryland] Charter Boat Association's board in the fall, after their busy season, to discuss a penalty system to get rid of any bad eggs they might have. The system has been changed a lot over the years and I'm sure it will change again."

One possible hiccup is that the fine and bond schedule must be approved by the chief judge of the district court system, Ben C. Clyburn.

Show up and show support for the folks who devised the Buddy Regs. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at 580 Taylor Ave.

If you like what you see, urge Judge Clyburn to give his blessing. Contact his office by phone at 410-260-1525, by fax at 410-974-5026 or by snail mail at Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building, 361 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis 21401.

Farm system

It's nice to have people who step up to the plate every time there's a job to be done. The folks who worked on the Buddy Regs are prime examples of that. They have institutional knowledge and solid working relationships that make any task easier.

But there are thousands of anglers, many willing to voice their opinions about what's wrong with the system at club meetings and on Web sites. Several people have e-mailed me to ask why the same people seem to get all the appointments.

On the one hand, people who don't apply don't get appointed. But on the other, it's important for DNR and groups such as the Coastal Conservation Association and the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association to mentor the next generation of major leaguers.

There are plenty of opportunities right now. How about the task force charged with a top to bottom review of fisheries policies? It doesn't get more important and far reaching than that.

Howard King, the Fisheries Service director, said he'll meet tomorrow afternoon with secretary John Griffin and deputy secretary Eric Schwaab to review the list of groups promised representatives in the law authorizing the task force. King said the 14-member group will have its first meeting before the end of the month. The legislature set a December 2008 deadline for completion of the overhaul.

Not part of a group? The terms of all 12 members of the Sport Fish Advisory Commission and all nine members of the Tidal Fish Advisory Commission are coming to an end. Soon.

Seems the Ehrlich administration never got around to re-appointing or replacing commission members whose terms expired. In order to reestablish staggered terms, some O'Malley administration appointees will serve longer than others - a perfect scenario for someone who would like to take the job for a test spin.

That's 35 openings, or almost four baseball teams.

See you on opening day.


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