New Maryland laws target poachers, pollution -- Gazette.Net







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After watching court hearings of people charged with poaching in the Chesapeake Bay last year, attorney Evan Thalenberg says he came to a realization: Committing the crime was too easy.

The rules needed to be tightened, loopholes needed to be closed.

New regulations taking effect July 1 will take aim at illegal fishing operations raiding the Bay and try to protect those species that work to filter the water.

By keeping closer track of the daily loads caught by commercial watermen and limiting how often fishing licenses can be transferred, supporters expect the law to reduce illegal fishing. That should save money on criminal prosecutions and nurture the bay’s struggling oyster population, they believe.

The anti-poaching law is one of dozens scheduled to take effect Sunday, impacting the environment, development, farming and even beer brewing.

Under existing law, watermen can temporarily transfer their fishing licenses an unlimited number of times, making it difficult for authorities to keep track of how many people were using a single license, said Thalenberg, founder of the Annapolis-based nonprofit Chesapeake BaySavers, which supported the new law adopted by legislators this year.

The changes also were backed by the state Department of Natural Resources and the Chesapeake Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Association.

The new law, which allows license transfers twice per year, still gives commercial fisherman the flexibility to accommodate changes to their boat crews, said Richard Young, a crab fisherman and owner of Coveside Crabs in Dundalk. Young said he initially was opposed to the law but decided to support it when it became clear some changes would be allowed.

The law also calls for a hailing system, initially planned for use by those catching striped bass, which requires watermen to alert DNR when they set out to fish and return and report how much they have caught.

That system, tentatively to be in place next summer, will help DNR police make efficient spot checks of fishing catches, according to the department.

Ultimately, the new rules will help authorities determine if someone is catching what they shouldn’t be — including the Bay’s protected oysters, Thalenberg said. Because oysters filter the water, a healthy oyster population is needed to keep the Bay clean.

“Without the oysters, the Bay won’t recover,” he said.

Several other environmental initiatives approved by the General Assembly this year are set to go into effect Sunday, including an increase in the state’s so-called “flush tax” from $30 to $60. The tax helps fund Bay restoration efforts, including upgrades to sewage treatment facilities.

Limitations on where new septic systems can be placed and a requirement for local jurisdictions to impose fees to reduce polluted stormwater runoff also will become law, but their full impact will not be felt immediately. Some provisions regarding septic systems won’t take effect until December, and local stormwater plans must be adopted by July 1, 2013.

“[This year] we tried to tackle in some way all of the big sources of pollution affecting water quality in the Bay,” said Alison Prost, state executive director for the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Stormwater regulations were particularly vital because they address problems created years ago, before the impact of polluted runoff was really understood, Prost said.

Among the major nonenvironmental laws taking effect July 1 is an increase in the state’s tax on little cigars and smokeless tobacco products. Little cigars, popular with teens, will be subject to a 70 percent tax, while the tax on smokeless tobacco will climb from 15 percent to 30 percent.

Another law is expected to benefit Maryland’s family farms. It changes the state’s estate tax law by increasing the threshold for paying the tax from $1 million worth of agricultural property to $5 million.

The tax break will help farms stay in business after they’re passed from one generation to another, said Valerie Connelly, director of government relations for the nonprofit Maryland Farm Bureau.

“Farms are not big cash operations,” Connelly said. “A 200-acre farm could easily hit the million-dollar exemption.”

The change was sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach and hit close to home for Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship.

A farm belonging to Kittleman’s father, who died in 2004, was deemed to be worth more than $1 million. The family had to pay about $60,000 in Maryland estate tax, more than many families would be able to afford, Kittleman said.

“If we’d had to sell, it would have been pretty traumatic,” Kittleman said. “The legislation is important for families who want to continue the farming tradition.”

Also on tap for Maryland farmers is the opportunity to brew and sell their own beer — thanks to a new class of brewery license.

“It’s all about getting people to come out and visit the farms and see what the farms can do,” said Adam Frey, who farms hops in Mount Airy and hopes to open a farm brewery as soon as his state and federal permits are approved.

Frey said he intends to keep his operation fairly small, producing just a handful of 31-gallon barrels per week. He has been testing different flavors with small group of beer-aficionado friends.

“It gives you the opportunity to turn the farm into something other than a farm,” Frey said.