8 Rock Hall men charged with rockfish poaching

Eight Rock Hall men were charged last week with rockfish poaching, the first arrests under a new system that imposes penalties based on the severity of the crime.

On Feb. 23, Natural Resources Police charged William Howard Beck, 43, with possessing striped bass greater than 36 inches and mutilating the tail to mask the size of the fish. Officers said they caught Beck when they checked J & J Seafood in Rock Hall and found striped bass with cut tails.

The next day, officers charged John Franklin Riggs, 43, with failing to check in striped bass during the required times. Officers said they found striped bass hidden in the cabin of his boat.

Riggs and Beck also are facing charges of failing to properly mark gill nets in the Chesapeake Bay and setting or maintaining an unattended striped bass gill net.

The arrests are part of a massive crackdown by the NRP on fish and oyster poachers that employs team patrols, high-tech surveillance equipment and sonar sweeps to look for illegal nets that are submerged. Officers seized approximately 16,500 yards of illegally anchored gill (approximately 55 nets) and 3,200 pounds of rockfish during the last week and half of February.

"Repeat offenders will not be tolerated," said Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. "We take these crimes against our public resources very seriously."

The new three-tier system, which went into effect Feb. 22, groups offenses by severity and sets penalties and points for each. Watermen accumulating 10 points will have their licenses suspended for 30 days. For extremely serious violations, DNR can suspend a license on a first offense.

If convicted, Beck may be subject to thousands of dollars in fines and at least five points on his license. Riggs will also face thousands of dollars in fines if convicted.

In December, Beck and Riggs were charged with oyster poaching and DNR subsequently suspended Beck's right to catch oysters for the season due to repeat offenses.

Also charged last week:

Lewis Herbert Cain Sr., 63, Christopher Wesley Lingerman, 37, and Joel Colon, 29, for possession of striped bass greater than 36 inches. Officers boarded a commercial fishing boat in Rock Hall Harbor on Feb. 23 and found three oversized striped bass hidden in a compartment under the deck of the boat. The maximum fine for a first offense is $1,000 and $2,000 for a second offense.

On the same day, officers found fish hidden in a forward compartment of a second boat and charged James Daniel Elburn, 51, Donnie Bartus Collier, 55, and William Bartus Collier, 81, with possessing striped bass greater than 36 inches. Elburn and Donnie Collier were charged with two counts of mutilating striped bass to mask the size of the fish and catching striped bass in excess of their daily catch limits. If convicted, they could be fined a maximum of $1,000 for a first offense and $2,000 for a second offense. Possessing mutilated fish is punishable by five points per violation.

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