EASTON, Md. - Maryland Natural Resources police busted a Virginia truck driver for one of the largest cases of undersized oyster poaching in recent years, a department spokeswoman confirmed.
Officers seized a tractor-trailer filled with 188 bushels of oysters Wednesday night. Rhoderick J. Newman, 66, was arrested and charged with one count of attempting to transport undersized oysters out of state and five counts of possession of undersized and un-culled oysters, according to the Department of Natural Resources website.
"The taxpayers of Maryland have spent millions of dollars to restore oysters to their natural habitat. … They are keystone species," Candy Thompson, a Natural Resources Police spokeswoman, said.
Oysters are a source of livelihood for Maryland fisherman and a natural filter of the Chesapeake Bay. The O'Malley administration made protecting oysters a priority in 2010 with the passage of the Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan.
"When you remove them when they're undersized you remove the next generation," Thompson said.
The investigation is ongoing and further charges are pending, Thompson added. The maximum fine for poaching undersized oysters is $1,000 per bushel.
"There is no excuse for any amount of oyster poaching, let alone what happened here," DNR Secretary Joseph P. Gill said in a statement. "A blatant disregard for our fishery is a slap in the face to responsible waterman, and all Marylanders. I want to congratulate our officers, and entire team, for a job well done."
The truck was stopped heading westbound on US 50 in Easton, the release states. Officers were acting on a tip.
Seventeen officers across three jurisdictions used the light from their vehicle headlights spending six hours in the rain and snow to measure every single oyster in the truck, as required by Maryland law.
"The officers were pretty worn out by the end of the evening," Thompson said. The goal was to get the undersized back in the water as quickly as possible.
Officers found all but one bushel contained oysters under the legal 3-inch limit.
"The percentage of undersized oysters in each bushel ranged from six percent to 46 percent, which is beyond Maryland's five percent tolerance level. That made 187 bushels illegal, the release states.
Police impounded the truck, which is owned by Cowart Seafood Corp., of Lottsburg, Va.
Natural Resource Police have dedicated more officers to saturation patrols by boat and by air since October to prevent oyster poaching.
Investigators will turn over material to the Office of the State's Attorney for Talbot County for processing.
Visit Access DNR online for more insight into the bust and a photo gallery.