With arrival of yellow perch, some things are starting to look up

The Baltimore Sun

It has been a good news, bad news kind of week.

But these days, if you can get a 50-50 mix, consider yourself ahead.

Good news: Yellow perch are beginning to make guest appearances in Chesapeake Bay tributaries, a sure sign we're on the back side of winter (fingers crossed). Up in North East, Capt. Mike Benjamin is already offering half-day yellow perch charter trips on the Susquehanna River. When it comes to spring, I'll take yellow perch arriving over a groundhog seeing its shadow any day of the week.

Bad news: The already whittled-down Department of Natural Resources budget is due for a hearing Wednesday and Thursday, and chances are more cuts are coming, including the two Natural Resources Police helicopters. You'll know things are really bleak when you turn on TV and see DNR Secretary John R. Griffin selling ShamWow.

Good news: Public pressure, good police work and conscientious prosecutors made it a bad week to be a poacher. Serial offender Joey Janda, a 22-year-old waterman from Wittman, will have a 90-day vacation in the St. Mary's County jail, spend three years on supervised probation and have his commercial license suspended for three years for harvesting undersized oysters. State's Attorney Richard Fritz asked for the maximum penalty, noting the public response he received. How big a jerk is Janda, who has a rap sheet as long as your arm? On Wednesday, just two days before his appearance in St. Mary's District Court, Janda was charged by NRP with 22 counts of possessing undersized and unculled oysters. His court date in Dorchester County District Court is April 6. William Jones is the state's attorney. His e-mail address is wjones@docogonet.com.

Also getting their comeuppance: the two Georgetown fish dealers who took part in the largest Chesapeake Bay striped bass poaching case ever cracked. Cannon Seafood agreed to pay an $80,000 fine and $28,000 in restitution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Owner Richard Moore Sr. and his son, Richard Jr., will pay a total of $70,000 in fines and a combined $25,000 in restitution to the foundation.

Bad news: The cases of four watermen - three from Maryland and one from Virginia - also charged in the striped bass case were postponed Friday and haven't been rescheduled. A fifth waterman is expected to plead guilty Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Good news: If the weather is iffy and you're looking for a place to take the kids, try the visitor's center at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel. Newly renovated, it has tons of wildlife displays featuring eagles, wolves, whooping cranes and bears and an observation area to watch critters. Outside are miles of flat hiking trails, with eagles and hawks soaring overhead. It's all free. Take the Powder Mill Road exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and go east about two miles. For details, call 301-497-5763 or visit http://patuxent.fws.gov.

Bad news: When it comes to crabs, Maryland watermen could use a tutorial with Sesame Street's Count von Count. It seems the regulations enacted last year by Maryland and Virginia to protect female crabs and rebuild the Chesapeake Bay population were too confusing for Maryland watermen, who "accidentally" inflated their 2008 catch numbers. That's what the Maryland Watermen's Association says. The bogus numbers were supposed to show regulators that there are plenty of crabs in the bay and restrictions aren't needed. But aerial surveys of crab pots (by those choppers on the chopping block) and reports from seafood dealers found the catch was substantially down. Unfortunately for the watermen, some of them telegraphed their intentions to falsify their catches at a meeting last year with DNR officials. Virginia watermen reportedly had no trouble understanding the new rules. Their catch numbers matched what seafood dealers reported. Maryland watermen, repeat after the Count, "That's one, one female blue crab ... "

Good news: A state panel is recommending to the General Assembly that it no longer pay for the charade known as "oyster restoration," which pays watermen to plant baby oysters in "managed reserves" and then allows them to scoop up and sell the full-grown models several years later. "I just don't think the public is going to be willing to pay very much longer for a couple hundred guys to make some of their income harvesting oysters," William Eichbaum, chairman of the Oyster Advisory Commission, told my colleague, Tim Wheeler. Instead, the commission is recommending money that should go toward salvaging and restoring reefs, planting millions of bushels of hatchery-reared oysters, closing rivers to harvesting and promoting aquaculture.

Bad news: What's with the oily gunk fouling the surface ice at Deep Creek Lake? Two longtime ice fishermen pointed it out to me, and it's sad to see the black liquid fouling fish, gear and clothing. Another thing - and maybe it's related - do snowmobile riders have to zoom so close to those of us fishing? Don't think so.

Good news: In the season that just ended, Maryland hunters killed more deer than in any time since the early 1900s, when the state started keeping records. Did the allure of free meat in this lousy economy put more hunters in the woods? Could be, says Brian Eyler, DNR's deer guru. Bow, black powder and modern firearms hunters combined to take 100,437 deer, beating the previous mark of 94,114 deer killed from 2002 to 2003. The total is 9 percent higher than last season's 92,208 deer.

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