While much of the attention in Maryland was focused on pfiesteria and nutrient management legislation, the General Assembly also adopted a three-part bill to improve fisheries management, including limited entry to commercial fisheries, apprenticeship to the commercial fisheries, and a noncommercial crabbing license.
Key aspects of the legislation:
- The Department of Natural Resources will cap commercial fisheries at current levels, so there will be no expansion of the fishing effort. Most of the state's fisheries are at or above full exploitation. By limiting the number of commercial licenses issued and gear used, the intent of the legislation is to protect the commercial and biological viability of species. The limited entry program also helps ensure that licenses are managed in a way that allows watermen to continue to make a living.
- Establishment of an apprenticeship program. This program is designed to allow individuals a fair and equitable manner of entering the commercial fish business. Individuals applying for licenses are placed on waiting lists. This bill allows individuals on the list with prior commercial fishing experience to obtain a license. For others, it sets criteria and a system for individuals to apprentice in a fishery for at least two years before being issued a commercial fishing license. Licenses will only be granted if there is an available slot under the participation targets established in the limited entry program.
- Reinstatement of a noncommercial crabbing license which had been repealed in 1994. Revenue from the license will help fund studies that will determine the extent of the noncommercial crabbing catch, which would help management decisions. The bill establishes a daily catch limit of two bushels per license holder, and gear restriction of 600 to 1,200 feet of trotline and 10 to 30 crab traps or rings. Fees for the license are $5 for residents, $10 for nonresidents and $2 for residents who possess a Chesapeake Bay sportfishing license. Individuals who catch less than one bushel of crabs and use hand lines, dip nets, trotline less than 600 feet, less than 10 crab traps or rings and waterfront property owners using two crab pots are exempt.
In other action, the General Assembly:
- Passed legislation extending the Chesapeake Bay Commemorative License Plate Program until July 1, 2000. Funds from the sale of the popular "Treasure the Chesapeake" plate, featuring a blue heron, support the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The trust is a private, nonprofit, grant-making foundation, established in 1985, that awards grants for projects to schools, nonprofit organizations, community associations and public agencies that contribute to restoration of the Bay.
- Rejected a bill to make Maryland's penalties for violating environmental laws similar to those of the federal government. Recent court cases have recognized a significant gap in penalties between Maryland's laws and the Clean Water Act. The bill would have increased the maximum penalties in Maryland for knowingly violating provisions of law dealing with water pollution control, drinking water, and tidal and nontidal wetlands. Under the bill, such violations would be upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony.
The bill passed the Senate but failed to make it out of a House committee.
- Failed to approve a joint resolution requesting the U.S. Congress to authorize and appropriate adequate funding for the Department of Defense to install biological nutrient removal upgrades to wastewater treatment plants located at federal military bases in Maryland. The bill passed the House but not the Senate.
- Adapted from summaries
Prepared by the Chesapeake Bay Commission. The commission is an advisory panel that includes members of the legislature from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.