ANNAPOLIS — Just weeks into its debut, the network of radar units and cameras scanning the Chesapeake Bay for law breakers and citizens in harm’s way is paying dividends not only to Maryland Natural Resources Police, but to its partners.
The Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network has helped officers nab oyster poachers in the lower bay and guided Anne Arundel County’s rescue personnel to boaters in distress.
“It’s a fantastic system,” said Battalion Chief David Povlitz of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. “We are grateful to have access to it.”
Col. George F. Johnson IV, superintendent of NRP, said he is pleased with the early results and predicts greater success as technicians fine-tune the equipment and MLEIN users grow more comfortable with the system’s capabilities.
“This is just the beginning,” said Johnson. “With its ability to be on duty around the clock and to see for miles, no matter what the weather, MLEIN makes the bay and its tributaries a smaller neighborhood to patrol.”
On Oct. 23, NRP officers on stakeout near Deal Island used MLEIN to track a suspected poacher on an oyster bar and intercept the vessel without being detected.
The two Dorchester County watermen onboard received citations for harvesting undersized oysters and were issued 31 warnings for equipment violations.
“It was nasty weather and it was cold. We were able to pull up behind them and they didn’t see us until we were 50 yards away,” said one of the officers.
In late October and early November, Anne Arundel County rescue professionals patched into MLEIN during two calls for help to zero in on the problems.
“The first call was for a boat in distress south of the bay bridge. We were able to swing the cameras around and use radar to scan the water while our boats made their way to the scene. We were able to cover a lot of real estate,” said Povlitz.
In the second case, rescuers were able to zoom in on a boat that had lost power to determine the severity of the problem.
“It’s an amazingly powerful tool that gives us tremendous range,” said Povlitz. “I’ll bet a couple of paychecks that this will go a long way to help ensure civilian safety.”
Enhanced enforcement is one of the goals under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 10-point Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan. In 2011, he signed a sweeping law that included stricter penalties for both egregious first-time and serial offenders.
In October, the governor announced that a record 1.25 billion spat produced at the University of Maryland Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge had been planted, mostly in oyster sanctuaries. These sanctuaries help rebuild the native oyster population and improve water quality.