Striped bass poachers banned from fishery for life
EASTON — Two Talbot County Watermen received lifetime bans from the striped bass fishery by the Maryland Department of Natural Resource (DNR) after being convicted of poaching and selling nearly $500,000 of striped bass over a period of four years.
Tilghman Island watermen Michael D. Hayden Jr. and William J. Lednum were convicted in 2015 and 2014, respectively, of running an illegal striped bass operation.
In addition to the $498,000 in court-ordered restitution to the state of Mar yland, both Hayden and Lednum received lifetime revocations of their striped bass fishing licenses and were suspended from all commercial fishing activities for the next year, followed by a four-year probationary period in all other fisheries, according to DNR.
Their striped bass allocations are being returned to the commercial fishery.
“The department has acted to protect the species as well as the interests of those who rely on the striped bass fishery for their livelihood,” said DNR Secretary Mark Belton. “We hope this sends a strong signal to poachers that the state is serious about protecting the fishery.”
Belton said in a statement released Monday, June 27, that , though the actions to ban Lednum and Hayden are rare, it was taken “only after all the evidence was fully considered and after the individuals admitted fault.”
The investigation of the two men began in February 2011, when DNR police found tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass snagged in illegal, anchored nets off Kent Island before the season officially opened.
The discovery triggered a massive police enforcement effort, generated a series of laws and closed the commercial striped bass season three weeks early to prevent overfishing.
Investigators from Natural Resources Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed evidence, which showed that beginning in 2007, Hayden and Lednum shipped and sold at least 10 tons of striped bass — worth $498,293 — to wholesalers in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, according to DNR. None of the fish were properly reported.
After being indicted in 2013 by a federal grand jury on 26 counts of conspiracy and violating the Lacey Act, Hayden and Lednum entered into plea agreements, where they admitted to using illegally weighted and/or anchored gill nets, leaving the nets in the water overnight, and setting the nets during times when the commercial striped bass gillnetting season was closed.
Further, they admitted they falsified the permit allocation cards and daily catch records for their fishing trips to over-report the numbers of striped bass caught and underreport the weights. This allowed them to request additional state tags under false pretenses, according to DNR.
In February 2015, Hayden was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by six months of home detention and three years of supervised release. He was ordered to pay a fine of $40,000.
Lednum received a prison sentence of one year and one day, six months of home detention and a fine of $40,000.