February 15, 2011

How do you catch an oyster poacher if no one is watching?

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It was just a little old bill to establish a process for revoking the commercial fishing license of a waterman caught poaching oysters.

Sen. Rich Colburn

But it produced a lengthy back and forth exchange on the Senate floor Tuesday between Republican Sen. Rich Colburn of Dorchester County, where a lot of oystermen live, and Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chairman of the Education, Health and Environment Committee.

Conway, a Democrat from Baltimore, where oysters are more often found in restaurants, told Colburn he knew exactly what the bill did since he voted on it last year when he served on the committee.

But Colburn plodded ahead asking questions about the measure. His whole point was to raise the issue about the reduced number of Department of Natural Resources police. This helped lead to DNR’s decision to put tracking devices on oyster boats without the owner’s knowledge so police could nab them fishing in forbidden waters.

“We know this is just a feel good bill,” Colburn said. “We know there are not enough DNR police” to enforce it.

Colburn was upset at the surreptitious planting of the tracking devices, even if they were reportedly installed with a judge’s order.

Sen. Roy Dyson, the committee’s vice chair and a St. Mary’s County Democrat, was also unhappy that “the watermen didn’t know that the devices were on the boats.”

Conway told Colburn since he was now on the Budget & Tax Committee, he could take some state police personnel and assign them to DNR to beef up the waterway enforcement.

Senate President Mike Miller reminded Colburn to stick to the subject of the bill, but eventually suggested that the Senate put off further debate till the next day.

“We’re going to hear a lot more about this bill the rest of the week,” Miller conceded with a smile.

Afterward, Colburn told me, “This bill is a perfect podium on the tracking devices.”

–Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com