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Watermen sentenced to year-plus

Four commercial fishermen from Maryland’s Eastern Shore have been sentenced in federal court for illegally netting and selling more than 90 tons of rockfish and pocketing almost a half-million dollars in profits over four years.
    The watermen used gill nets, particularly effective gear used in the Chesapeake since 1873. Gill nets snare fish by the gills in a mesh that allows the fish’s head to enter while preventing its body from following. Some 300 commercial gill-netters operate on the Chesapeake.
    Almost impossible to detect once anchored in place, three technological developments have made these nets so deadly that they may be a threat to our rockfish population.
    First was the development of translucent, nylon monofilament. Gill nets constructed of this material are virtually invisible to the fish and much more effective in catching them.
    The second development was the electronic fish finder. With fish finders, watermen can easily locate populations of rockfish, especially in winter when schools tend to linger in an area.
    The final development was the GPS. While greatly assisting commercial watermen in navigation, GPS also enabled poachers to set anchored nets with geographic precision and to return under cover of darkness or bad weather and quickly locate them for retrieval.
    Because of proven by-catch mortality, anchored gill nets have been outlawed in Maryland waters since 1992. Only legal are attended, free-floating drift nets with a five- to seven-inch mesh size that limits most rockfish catches to legal-sized fish. Gill nets can legally be up to 3,500 yards long, though in practice most are less.

Crime and Punishment
    The watermen in question broke the law in several ways: by using unattended, anchored gill nets; by fishing outside of the commercial season; and by falsifying catch records and evading Maryland regulations. The fish were sold to wholesale markets in surrounding states.
    Federal law under the Lacey Act prohibits crossing state lines to sell fish caught illegally. Thus the sentences came in U.S. District Court.
    “The scale of this conspiracy was massive,” said federal prosecutor Todd Gleason. “It coincides with a steady decline of striped bass. We are heading back to the levels near the moratorium.”
    The two Tilghman Island watermen running the operation were each sentenced to more than a year. Michael Hayden Jr., who also was found guilty of witness intimidation, will serve 18 months plus three years home detention. William Lednum, who expressed remorse, was sentenced to a year and a day. One helper was sentenced to 30 days to be served on weekends; another escaped with probation and a fine.
    Three of the four were each fined $40,000. The two main operators were also made liable for restitution of rockfish valued at nearly $500,000. The penalties are among the most severe ever handed down for Natural Resource violations.
    These are also the first major instances of illegal netters brought to justice in Maryland despite years of rumors about illegal wintertime netting. According to one of the principle defendants, William Lednum, these illicit activities have been a common practice among many watermen, but he was the only one caught. The witness operating the station where the fish were checked in, and who testified to falsifying documents with the watermen to cover the illegal catches, also explained that his actions were merely a routine industry practice.
    Understaffing at Natural Resources Police is one key reason for these problems. The number of water-patrolling officers has been reduced by half over the last decade, while Department of Natural Resources personnel dedicated to verifying and double-checking reported catch data and seafood wholesaler records continue to be low. Cheating and under-reporting commercial catch information thus remain unchecked.
    No further discoveries of illegal gill netting of this scope have been made since these arrests. However, considering the extreme difficulty of detecting the activity, the vastness of the Chesapeake and the significant financial rewards to be gained it would be foolish to assume that it is not still occurring.

Coast Guard’s sea turtle rescue brings them Internet fame

It’s all in a day’s work.    
    The day was August 12, when a boater reported an entangled sea turtle 30 miles off New Jersey’s southern coast.
    Using the boater’s GPS coordinates, the Cape May Coast Guardsmen and staff of Marine Mammal Rescue Center set out on a rescue mission. Finding a turtle in the Atlantic could have been as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. But the coordinates led straight to an ensnared leatherback.
    The team got close enough to grab the offending gear — a floating marker on a long pole ending in a rope. Then, the Coast Guard team “used their bare hands to control the struggling 800-pound creature.” Amid the grappling, the line was disentangled and the turtle swam free.
    Videotaping actions is also in a day’s work in the modern Coast Guard. Over the last two weeks, YouTube viewers chose the Coast Guard’s Video of the Year from 10 action-packed sea rescues and adventures. The leatherback rescue earned second place. So in sweet symbiosis, the sea turtle saved by the Coast Guard makes the rescuers stars.
    See the Coast Guard’s Top 10 of 2014 at www.youtube.com/user/USCGImagery.

7 million Books for International Goodwill

B.I.G. stands for Books for International Goodwill. Taken at face value, the word tells another truth. Books for International Goodwill is big. This week, the 18-year-old Parole Rotary Club project packs its seven millionth book in its 300th shipping container.
    Those milestone figures tell only part of this big story. Books come in at the rate of 1,500 a day. Local readers make many of the contributions, dropping off loads of books 24/7 at the B.I.G. Annapolis warehouse at 2000 Capital Drive. Overprints from publishers add volume.
    Dealing with 547,500 books a year takes 600 volunteer hours, 95 percent contributed outside Rotary by citizens motivated by the B.I.G. mission.
    That would be supporting schools, libraries and literacy projects in countries where books are a dreamed-of luxury. Most are former British colonies as most B.I.G. books are in English. Uganda was the first. B.I.G. began as an effort to send books to three schools when a bookless principal there asked friend and now-deceased Parole Rotarian and B.I.G. founder Leonard Blackshear for help.
    In 18 years, books have been sent to over 30 countries in tractor-trailer loads of 20,000. Eight hundred box-by-box shipments have gone to Peace Corps volunteers and 1,000 to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seven million books would fill Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to a depth of eight feet.
    The shipments are funded by donations and monthly book sales.
    “B.I.G. is a win-win-win operation,” says Rotary organizer Steve Frantzich. “Those donating books realize they will go to a good home. From an environmental perspective, B.I.G. has saved the county over 6,000 cubic feet of landfill space from once-discarded school and library books alone. Finally, recipients receive the tools they need for empowerment through literacy.”
    Browse 70,000 well-organized books and buy at bargain prices — 50¢ to $1.50 or $30 a bagful — to fund Books for International Goodwill this Saturday, Nov. 1 from 8am to 2pm at 2000 Capital Dr., Annapolis: 410-293-6865; www.big-books.org. Next sale, Saturday, Dec. 13.

Beckerman kicked his way from Crofton to Salt Lake to Brazil

The world’s sport takes the world’s stage next week when World Cup play begins in Brazil.
    Played every four years, the World Cup is the most-watched and admired sporting event on the planet. This year, Anne Arundel County has a favorite son in the play. Crofton-raised Kyle Beckerman, a 31-year-old defensive midfielder for the United States Men’s National Team and captain of Real Salt Lake, prepares to lace up his cleats and play for all the world to see.
    Bay Weekly checked in with ­Beckerman last November [www.bayweekly.com/node/19763], when he had just finished solid performances for the United States in the 2013 Gold Cup and the World Cup Qualification Tournament and was captaining a great Real Salt Lake Major League Soccer team. Since then, Beckerman’s Real Salt Lake reached the MLS Championship game in December. On May 22, Beckerman was named as a starter on coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s final 23-man roster to represent the United States in the World Cup.
    Crofton is swelling with pride for the Arundel High School alum.
    “Sure, Crofton may have Edward Snowden, but now we’ve got Kyle Beckerman to even it out. It’s so inspiring that he’s from my hometown,” says 18-year-old Patrick Russo, a life-long Crofton resident.
    “He is so awesome. I just ordered my little brother a Beckerman USA jersey as a graduation gift so he’ll be ‘repping Crofton all World Cup,” says Devin Garcia, local soccer fanatic.
    Despite hometown support, Beckerman and company will have a troublesome path to success, after being placed in what fans are calling the tournament’s Group of Death along with Ghana, Portugal and Germany. Only two of the four teams will move on to the next “knockout” stage.
    Portugal, ranked fourth in the world, claims the world’s greatest player in the 29-year old phenom, ­Cristiano ­Ronaldo, recently voted this year’s FIFA Footballer of the Year.
    Second-ranked Germany, the 2010 World Cup runner up, is arguably the most well-rounded and feared team in the world.
    Ghana, while ranked just 37th in the world, could hold more bad news for the Yanks. In the previous two World Cups, the United States’ fate was dictated both times in dramatic, controversial losses to Ghana. Will history repeat itself? Or will the third time be the charm for the Red, White and Blue?
    Doubters include even the American coach. In an interview with The New York Times, Klinsmann said that the U.S. “cannot win this World Cup.”
    “He’s wrong,” contests Russo. “That’s what everyone said about the 1980 USA hockey team. Then the Miracle On Ice happened.”
    As sure as Patrick Russo is, America’s World Cup destiny won’t be known until the games begin on Thursday, June 12. Then Crofton, Anne Arundel County and all of America will watch as Kyle Beckerman and the United States National Team face off on the world’s greatest, most prestigious stage, the 2014 Brazil World Cup.

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.

Wild Orchid chef takes over Sam’s kitchen

It’s a new year. With the flip of a calendar comes a chance to renew, refresh and remodel.
    In Annapolis, the new year offers opportunity for two local restaurateurs to help each other.
    Andrew Parks, owner of Sam’s on the Waterfront, has announced his new executive chef, Jim Wilder. Chef Wilder recently closed his Westgate Circle restaurant Wild Orchid after a difficult three-year tenure.
    Timing is everything, so hopes Parks, who has struggled to consistently employ an executive chef in the eight years he has owned the waterfront restaurant built in 1986 by his grandfather, the original Sam.
    Each man endeavors to bring the best of his farm-to-table vision in this new marriage of culinary talents. Each restaurant has — or has had — the green restaurant certification.
    At Sam’s, Parks takes the front-of-house role with Wilder running the kitchen.
    In the past, Wilder has worked both ends of the operation, with 13 years at the helm of his highly regarded Eastport Wild Orchid his pinnacle, to the head-scratching move to the behemoth at the Severn Bank Building — a move that would be his undoing.
    Few understood Wilder’s decision to sell the warm and comfortable 40-seat Eastport café in 2010 and move to the 250-seat former Greystone Grill on the other side of town.
    That decision “was not based on sound business models. I had to keep my mind occupied,” Wilder said, after the untimely death of his and wife Karen’s son, Andrew Wall, from brain cancer in 2009. “It was the bottom. And I deal with depression by keeping busy. Depression drove me.”
    Building a dream kitchen provided a needed distraction from grief. It also afforded access and opportunity to expand Wilder’s Company’s Coming catering business, along with a large floor plan that offered him ideal accessibility for his wheelchair.
    The dream was not meant to be. The restaurant closed in July 2013.
    Parks has his own challenges keeping Sam’s profitable and relevant. Hidden within the gated Chesapeake Harbour Marina community, the restaurant is difficult to find. Warm weather brings boaters out and swells the population of Chesapeake Harbour, where many residents are summer only. Still, Parks estimates that 80 percent of his business comes from outside the community. Getting diners in the door is an ongoing pursuit. Parks hopes hiring a well-known chef will do the trick.
    Chef Wilder brings his most popular dishes to the menu. Butternut squash soup with crab, scallops Napoleon and pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon join Sam’s favorites: lobster mac ’n’ cheese, rockfish and Kobe burgers (half-price on Tuesday).
    The transition has been subtle thus far, though Parks is enthusiastic about a new winter menu and many collaborative surprises to come.

Got a tasty tip for a future’s Dish? Email Lisa Knoll at thedish@bayweekly.com.

The Bay in the Balance

Snapshots from Earth Day 2015

Bay Weekly celebrates 22 years this week. On April 22, Earth Day 1993, we appeared as the Paper Committed to the Chesapeake.
    Like so many, Bay Weekly’s founding family was drawn to Chesapeake Bay. But all of us together exert tremendous pressure on this place we love.
    How are we doing in finding a sustainable balance?
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Oysterman hauls up archaeological treasure

A big jug was not what waterman Simon Dean of Solomons was expecting to haul up from the bottom of the Patuxent River in his oyster tongs. As a committed young waterman in partnership with wife Rachel to work the water and — with a new venture, Solomons Island Heritage Tours — introduce visitors to the estuarine experience, Dean knows his Chesapeake.
    But nothing had prepared him to harvest a botija.
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The Cake’s on Us

And ads are half-price

After you’ve filled up on the substance of this week’s issue, you’ll be ready for dessert. We’re serving cake to top off the celebration of our 22nd birthday on Thursday, April 23.
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How a 60-something heart-attack survivor found fitness and friendship riding with the Fab Brew Crew

About 5pm on a Tuesday afternoon, I pulled into the nearly empty parking lot of the Inn at Pirates Cove in Galesville.
    Where was everyone?
    I had expected the place to be teeming with cyclists.
    Had I come to the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong day? Confusion joined doubts that had been growing since I decided to check out the cycling group I heard of from friend John Hoffman.
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