Maryland watermen get jail time for illegally obtaining Virginia oyster licenses

Maryland watermen barred from oystering get jail time for illegally obtaining Virginia oyster licenses.

Two Maryland watermen who kept oystering in the Chesapeake Bay after losing their licenses in the state have been convicted in Virginia of obtaining licenses there under false pretenses.

Edward "Bruce" Lowery and Richard N. Fluharty, both of Tilghman Island, pleaded guilty last month in Accomack General District Court to three counts each of giving false information to a police officer and four counts each of failing to report their catch, according to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Each was fined $200 and sentenced to six months and 10 days in jail, with all but 10 days suspended.

Under Virginia law, only state residents are allowed to harvest oysters for sale. Lowery, who lost his Maryland oyster license five years ago after violations, told The Baltimore Sun earlier this year that he bought land in Virginia to secure a commercial license there, even though he never lived on the parcel. Fluharty, whose license was revoked in 2011, joined Lowery in Virginia, where both said they lived in motels while harvesting oysters.

The two were charged with forging a public record in claiming Virginia residence on their applications for licenses to harvest oysters in the state. The charges were reduced to misdemeanors in plea agreements with the prosecutor, according to the Virginia commission.

On Friday, Lowery declined to talk to a Sun reporter and hung up when contacted by phone. Attempts to reach Fluharty were unsuccessful.

The two lost their Maryland oystering licenses after the O'Malley administration began cracking down on poaching and other fishing violations several years ago. From 2010 until this year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources acted to suspend or revoke 70 licenses, more than five times the number in the previous five years.

State records show that since 2005, at least five Maryland watermen with suspended or revoked licenses continued to receive citations for poaching.

After learning of the Lowery and Fluharty cases, Virginia marine resource officials said this year that they might start checking whether watermen have been banned in Maryland before issuing oyster licenses.

A third Marylander, Sandy L. Parks of Salisbury, was charged Sept. 11 with forging an application to get a Virginia oystering license, according to the Virginia commission. A DNR spokeswoman said no one by that name holds a Maryland license to fish commercially. A telephone number listed for Parks was not in service.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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