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Two Rock Hall watermen were charged last week with harvesting 26 bushels of oysters, of which many were undersized, from a Patuxent River sanctuary.

Benjamin Leonard Reihl, 26, and Adam Vincent Reihl, 21, received citations for having a harvest containing 15 percent undersized oysters and for taking oysters from a closed area.

The actions came as law enforcement activities are ramping up for the six-month oyster season, according to a Maryland Natural Resources Police press release. NRP is using saturation patrols, aerial reconnaissance and electronic and video surveillance to clamp down on illegal harvesting.

Acting on a tip last Wednesday, Oct. 16, officers from St. Mary’s and Calvert counties placed the sanctuary near Greenwell State Park under surveillance and saw two oyster boats in legal waters, according to the press release. When one boat departed, the other moved to the Neal Addison Oyster Sanctuary.

As the patrol boat approached, the watermen moved back to legal waters. Officers inspected two bushels and found undersized oysters, according to the release. They escorted the boat to Solomons, where all 26 bushels were checked. Officers returned the oysters to the sanctuary.

“Poaching oysters is a crime against law-abiding watermen and Maryland citizens and will not be tolerated,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent, in a written statement. “In this case, the public supplied information, and the diligence of our officers paid off.”

Benjamin Reihl has been found guilty of multiple natural resources violations dating back to 2007, according to the press release. He was charged Oct. 4 with possessing a harvest with 9 percent undersized oysters taken from the Patuxent River in Calvert County. His oyster license is under suspension, but he was fishing last Wednesday as a designee on his father’s license, which is legal.

NRP officers also issued citations Oct. 17 to two watermen for having a harvest containing 9 percent undersized oysters.

Richard Brent Buff, 39, of Port Republic and Patrick Joseph Mahoney Jr., 33, of Annapolis are scheduled to appear in Calvert County District Court in December, the release states.

“We urge citizens to report illegal activities to call the Catch-A-Poacher hotline at 1-800-635-6124. This partnership is vital in developing a sustainable Chesapeake Bay,” Johnson said in the release.

Enhanced enforcement is one of the goals of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) 10-point Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan adopted in May 2010. O’Malley recently joined citizens, stakeholders, partners and staff to celebrate the production and planting of a record 1.25 billion spat in Maryland this year and significant progress under all 10 points of the plan, according to the press release.

In May 2011, O’Malley signed into law legislation to protect Maryland’s fisheries and encourage shellfish aquaculture. As part of an overall focus on enforcement efforts to better protect Maryland’s public fishery resources, DNR also established a tougher penalty system for commercial fishing violations.

Previously, a waterman had to receive multiple convictions before the department could impose a suspension. The new system allows the agency to impose suspensions for a single conviction, the press release states. The state also has increased the penalty for engaging in commercial fishing with a suspended license, a revoked license or without a license, by establishing a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to one year.

KATIE FITZPATRICK