NRP will use cameras supplied by Homeland Security to catch oyster poachers at night

The Oyster War raged on the Chesapeake Bay and was portrayed in this 1884 Harpers magazine cover. Law enforcement efforts to ride herd on watermen continues in 2010.

Annapolis, Md. (December 18, 2010) – Maryland citizens and visitors will soon benefit from enhanced search and rescue, homeland security, and law enforcement operations on Maryland waterways thanks to a new system of radar and camera sites on the Chesapeake Bay region.  The Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) is beginning the deployment of the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network to monitor vessel activity and assist first responders.

 “This new technology allows our maritime law enforcement officers to be more effective in enforcing natural resource law and responding to emergencies,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “Increasing our enforcement capabilities sends a clear message that violating the public’s trust and stealing from future generations of Marylanders will not be tolerated.”

 By coordinating information among law enforcement agencies, MLEIN will eventually allow officers to view incidents in multiple jurisdictions through radar signatures and images.  For example, officers will be more efficient in monitoring areas prone to oyster poaching using the network.  Planning is also underway to have NRP’s camera equipped vessels transmit images back to command centers, providing instantaneous information to all responding units. The information received through the network will be transmitted to NRP officers in the field through mobile data terminals.

 “We can now better protect Marylanders’ lives, property and the environment using this technology, which provides real time information to NRP and its allied agencies as situations unfold,” said NRP Superintendent Colonel George F. Johnson IV. “MLEIN will also assist responders in finding stranded vessels or other emergencies, in cases where mariners lack the local familiarity or electronic equipment to provide their exact location.”

 The new system augments other recent enhancements to conservation law enforcement under the O’Malley-Brown Administration. DNR established a new tougher penalty system for commercial fishing violations in February, which allows the agency to impose suspensions for a single conviction, or when public health, safety or welfare requires emergency action. The Department has also established a pilot program with the Annapolis District Court, through which the court hears a docket devoted exclusively to natural resource violations on the third Friday of every month.

“Devoting a docket exclusively to fishing, hunting and forestry violations lets judges and state’s attorneys focus on natural resources law, become acquainted with repeat offenders, and better assess the gravity of natural resources violations,” said DNR Deputy Secretary Joe Gill. “This program has been very successful and we are hoping to expand it to other jurisdictions.”

 The new MLEIN system, currently being phased in throughout the Chesapeake Bay area, is monitored 24/7 by the NRP at their Sandy Point Communication Center. NRP responds to more than 3,000 maritime calls a year, including vessels in distress, accidents, search and rescue and boating law violations.

MLEIN’s initial funding was through a Port Security Grant through the Department of Homeland Security for approximately $1 million with additional grants totaling approximately $2 million dollars.