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Tilghman Island waterman may lose license for rockfish poaching

William "Billy" Lednum, a fourth-generation Tilghman Island resident, has been voted to remain fire chief while residing in Federal prison for one year. He pled guilty to a major rockfish poaching operation. (Baltimore Sun video)

State officials are considering whether to revoke the license of a Tilghman Island waterman who entered federal prison this month for his role in a rockfish poaching scheme.

Sarah Widman, director of policy and planning for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' fisheries service, said the state recently received paperwork from the federal government relating to the prosecution of William J. "Billy" Lednum.

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Officials will decide in the coming weeks whether to revoke the state license that allows Lednum to fish for rockfish, also known as striped bass.

That is the typical procedure for major fishing violations, Widman said.

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In December, a federal judge in Baltimore sentenced Lednum to one year and one day in prison for his role in a poaching operation that lasted from at least 2007 to 2011 and involved nearly $500,000 worth of rockfish.

The state and federal investigation into the operation began in February 2011, when Natural Resources Police discovered several illegally set nets with 10 tons of rockfish near the Bloody Point lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay.

Investigators found that Lednum and fishing partner Michael D. Hayden Jr. falsified records, selling more than their legal quota to markets in New York and other states. Lead weights anchoring the nets to the bottom of the bay matched molds found in Lednum's garage, according to court documents.

Lednum continued to fish through the end of January, just a few days before he reported to federal prison at Fort Dix, N.J., on Feb. 2.

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In recent years, Maryland has made reforms that allow officials to suspend or revoke the licenses of repeat offenders or those involved in major fishery crimes. From 2005 to 2010, the state issued 13 suspensions and revocations. Since then, there have been 70.

Lednum and Hayden pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate a federal law that protects fish resources; they are responsible for nearly $500,000 in restitution. Hayden, who faces additional obstruction-of-justice allegations, is scheduled for sentencing Friday.

Two of their helpers were convicted on related charges. Kent Sadler of Tilghman Island pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate a federal fishing law. Helper Lawrence "Danny" Murphy of neighboring St. Michaels pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Sadler has begun a 30-day sentence, which he is serving on weekends at a local jail; Murphy is on probation. Both have hefty fines and restitution to pay.

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