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Police Go High-Tech To Stop Poaching

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- In an effort to stop poaching on the Chesapeake, police are going high-tech.

Alex DeMetrick reports it's a multi-pronged push to keep poachers from stealing the tons of fish they illegally netted last winter.

Last winter, 13 tons of striped bass were illegally netted by poachers, forcing the state to shut down the season early to honest watermen.

"It killed us. It killed our winter's work," said waterman Tom Haddaway.

For Natural Resources Police with a big bay to patrol, finding poachers' submerged nets meant getting lucky with a grappling hook...but not anymore. Patrol boats with side scanning sonar can see objects underwater.

"Okay, here's the barge. You can see there's objects off the side of it, see the ribs along the bottom of it. You can zoom in once more and you're a little closer to it. We're not dragging aimlessly through the water anymore with a hook; we can actually see the bottom now," said Natural Resources Police Corporal Roy Rafter.

New tools like sonar aren't the only steps being taken this winter. Last winter's poaching brought new laws increasing searches and forcing watermen to place names on their nets. Tagging and reporting fish has also been tightened. And there is the threat of another closed season.

"And if nets are found this year, we're going to take swift action to protect our fishery," said Natural Resources Police Sgt. Art Windemuth.

"We all talk among ourselves, the watermen do, and everybody's disgusted. It's in the best interest of everybody to behave themselves. It's as simple as that," said waterman Bob Sweitzer.

Because those who don't aren't just cutting corners, they're cutting the livelihoods of everyone else.

Besides tons of fish, last winter Natural Resources Police recovered five miles of submerged nets used by poachers.

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