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James Drake

In January 2011, more than 10 tons of illegally netted striped bass were discovered in the Chesapeake Bay.

That one criminal act enraged so many Marylanders that the following May, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed into law new legislation to better protect Maryland’s public fishing resources.

In the past, a commercial waterman had to receive multiple convictions before the Department of Natural Resources could impose a suspension.

Under this new policy, a suspended commercial license could result from a single violation. The state also increased penalties for certain fishing violations with fines now going up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to one year.

Another important upshot of beefing up our natural resources law enforcement was the DNR also got together with the Office of the Attorney General and the District Court of Maryland to establish a single day each month when only natural resources violations would be heard in court.

No longer being mixed in with traffic violations, contract disputes and domestic issues, all natural resources cases now would be heard together during one session in court.

Instead of getting a prosecutor who might be an expert in divorce law but unfamiliar with natural resources cases, now these cases are getting the proper attention and rulings they deserve.

In this current fishing season, just since last April, DNR has suspended 63 recreational fishing licenses, three commercial fishing authorizations and one commercial fishing license. The department has also revoked five commercial fishing authorizations and one commercial fishing license.

The violations that were prosecuted range from fishing in closed trout streams to possessing undersized striped bass and crabs, possessing female crabs, oystering in known polluted waters or actively fishing for a species that is out of season.

Working with a new point system for violations, a recreational fisherman’s license could be taken for things such as having four bluefish over the limit, three red drum on a single day or trying to take nine largemouth bass home when only five are allowed.

In a review of all 63 recreational cases, suspensions of fishing privileges ranged from 30 days to 455 days.

“Our natural resources belong to everyone, and we must all work together to ensure that they are protected, said DNR Secretary John Griffin when these new enforcement policies were first announced. “Those who violate the public trust must be prosecuted in an efficient manner to the full extent of the law and this program is an important mechanism in this effort.”

It looks like it’s working.

There is also a new radar and camera system network in operation out there that assists Natural Resources Police to monitor sensitive areas that are prone to poaching. You can bet they’re closely watching.

We’re also well into hunting season now and our game laws, too, will be vigorously enforced.

If you see a violation of fishing or hunting regulations and laws, call the Maryland Catch-A-Poacher hotline at 800-635-6124. This number is monitored 24 hours a day and you can be sure your call is appreciated and an important support to effective law enforcement.

These aren’t fellow sportsmen you’ll be turning in. No, they are more properly criminals and we don’t need any of them in our ranks.

Some business is good

Despite the lousy economy, massive unemployment, painful government deficits and budget cuts, the outdoor industry is growing by an average of 6.1 percent annually.

That’s not a bad gain and considering the general economic climate of the past several years, it’s downright amazing.

Compiled by Southwick Associates, an economic study on outdoor recreation has been compiled every year since 2006.

The latest report, just recently released, shows that more than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority and we collectively spend $646 billion on our recreational pursuits every year.

This money helps support direct impacts of 6.1 million jobs, $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue and $39.7 billion in state and local tax revenues.

According to The Outdoor Wire, estimates put $129.7 million spent on gear and vehicles, while another $524.8 billion was expended on trips.

Americans spend more on outdoor recreation each year ($646 billion) than they do on pharmaceuticals ($331 billion), according to statistics supplied by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Each year, Americans spend more on bicycling equipment and activities ($81 billion) than they do on air transportation ($51 billion).

For every dollar spent on bicycling and camping gear and vehicles, it stimulates nearly an additional $7 in trips and travel.

Nearly one out of every 20 Americans make a living off outdoor recreation.

According to the National Association of State Park Directors, more than 725 million visits to 6,000 state parks nationwide results in a collective $20 billion economic impact to communities surrounding those parks.

Maryland state park status

All state parks in the southern region of Maryland are now open again after Superstorm Sandy passed us by. Some clean-up efforts are continuing, so have patience, but the parks are all open.

That’s not the case out in Western Maryland where many public parks remain closed. These include state parks at Deep Creek Lake, Dans Mountain, Swallow Falls and New Germany.

In the eastern region, Assateague is also now again open.

Ridiculous tax

Toni Prechwinkle, the Illinois Board of Commissioners’ President, has proposed a $25 gun tax on every firearm and a five-cent “violence tax” on every bullet sold in Cook County, Ill.

This would have increased the cost $12.50 on a box of shotgun shells and $25 on a brick of .22 cartridges.

As you can imagine, this didn't float easy with the Illinois outdoor crowd.

She finally has dropped the five-cent bullet tax but refuses to put aside her new $25 gun fee saying, “It is very important to us to tax guns because we know that guns are the sources of incredible violence we have in our neighborhoods.”

The problem is that I don’t believe many of those folks committing the crimes and breaking the laws are going to pony up an additional $25 when they obtain their firearms illegally in the first place.