- Published on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 11:49
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Virginia Marine Police, determined to protect a resurgent oyster population, are cracking down on watermen who are violating oyster catch restrictions, citing them for poaching ad harvesting oysters illegally.
One of those cited as a part of the two-year crackdown is a Westmoreland waterman — James Calvin Newsome, 33, of Hague. Newsome is scheduled to appear before the Virginia Marine Resources Commission on March 26 to face administrative sanctions for repeated oyster violations over the past 18 months.
Due to the rotational harvest program, Virginia’s oyster haul has increased ten-fold, from 23,000 bushels in 2001 to 250,000 bushels in 2012. The oyster harvest’s dockside value increased from $575,000 to more than $8.25 million.
— Marine Resources Commission
“Oyster poaching now borders on an epidemic,” Marine Resources Commissioner Jack Travelstead said. “We have worked long and hard to rebuild the oyster stocks and we will not see them pillaged by unscrupulous thieves and watermen who are willing to cut corners.”
Watermen cited for violating oyster catch restrictions face thousands of dollars in fines, potential jail time and suspension of their commercial fishing licenses for up to two years, Travelstead said.
“We will not stand for this type of behavior,” Travelstead said. “I guarantee you the Marine Police will not let up until this problem is solved. The majority of watermen are honest people just trying to make a living and they respect the laws necessary to maintain sustainable fisheries. Most watermen are as concerned as we are that oyster poaching has become so rampant.”
Westmoreland waterman Doug Jenkins said, “A lot of these citations being written are for insignificant things. Most watermen are trying to do the right thing, but there is always one of two who cause most of the trouble.” Jenkins said the watermen believe the ultimate aim of the Marine Police is to require watermen to have GPS equipment on their boats so their locations can be monitored.
Newsome is facing a two-year suspension of his commercial fishing license for repeated violations of oyster harvesting restrictions. During the past 18 months, he has been charged with taking oysters from condemned waters; unlawful harvesting from a closed area; harvesting oysters at night; failing to tag oysters as required; and taking oysters from someone else’s cages.
The charge of taking oysters from someone else’s cages was reduced to impeding lawful fishing. Newsome pled guilty to that charge and guilty to the other charges and was fined $1,000 by a Westmoreland County judge. All but $200 of the fines were suspended, but now, in the March 26 hearing, Newsome faces the suspension of his commercial license, according to Marine Police.
Over the past two years, Marine police have written more than 500 citations for violations of oyster restrictions along the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. More than 100 citations were written last week.
“This plundering of the public’s oyster stocks must stop,” Travelstead said.