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Technology Is A New Weapon In Fight Against Oyster Poaching

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- From the waters of Seattle to the Chesapeake Bay, it's an age-old problem for law enforcement--poachers. They are damaging efforts to restore the oyster population.

But as Tim Williams shows us, technology is giving the good guys a new weapon.

Since watermen started working the Chesapeake Bay, there have been people trying to collect and harvest illegally.

"In 1868, the Natural Resources Police were created specifically to combat the oyster wars. So it's been 145 years that the state has been attempting to thwart illegal oyster poaching," said Natural Resources Police Major Jerry Kirkwood.

Now, Maryland Natural Resources Police patrols are using their newest enforcement tool. Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network, or MLEIN, tracks watermen crossing the boundary of any sanctuary set aside by the state for oyster population replenishment.

"It's a series of cameras and radar units up and down the bay. It's primarily tasked for Homeland Security missions, but we can use the components of MLEIN to combat conservation violations," Kirkwood said.

It detects the unique signature of every boat on the water. MLEIN assisted in two arrests last week in Tangier Sound. Sixty-four-year-old William Catlin and 55-year-old Irving Catlin were tracked by police armed with only laptops. The Catlins' boat was tracked to a harvest sanctuary. Seven bushels of oysters were confiscated and returned to the water.

"The officers that work out there, they know the signature of a vessel as to whether they're doing something they shouldn't be doing," said Kirkwood.

The key now is not letting the poachers in on the secret.

Maryland State Police helicopters will also fly surveillance with Natural Resources officers aboard through the end of oyster season in March.

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