DNR Claims Crackdown on Outlaw Watermen; Fact or Myth?

Skipjack load of watermelons on Chesapeake Bay

Skipjack load of watermelons on Chesapeake Bay


By Ken Rossignol



(A continuing series focusing on Maryland’s enforcement efforts on the Chesapeake Bay)


ANNAPOLIS, MD. — For the past several years the O’Malley Administration has set out a number of initiatives designed to protect the native oyster species from over-harvesting and to grow the oyster beds, considered vital in that oysters filter Bay water.

As part of that effort, large oyster sanctuaries have been established where oystering is either restricted or banned, making those areas tempting targets for one of Maryland’s other native species — the oyster pirate.

Defendant in court F. C. Yohn 1921 LoC

Defendant in court F. C. Yohn 1921 LoC

Oyster wars between Maryland and Virginia watermen raged for 150 years and one group of Maryland oystermen who were raiding Virginia oyster beds were actually captured by a Virginia Governor who had organized a fleet of vessels to surround and fight the outlaws. Encounters between outlaw watermen and Maryland’s Oyster Navy included violent gunfire directed towards the Oyster Police from the outlaws.

Historically, Maryland oyster pirates, whose descendants still believe that every fish, crab, clam and oyster in the Bay belongs to them, have worked contrary to all rules of seasons and catch limits established by the governing authorities.

In contrast, the law-abiding and hard-working watermen who brave economic recession and the extremities of the weather to make a living, live within the rules. Ironically their tax dollars are employed to snare those who refuse to follow catch limits, seasons and other restrictions.

State Police assist NRP oyster police

State Police assist NRP oyster police

The watermen have an organization to represent them in the Annapolis but the leader of the group has a track record of being aligned with the oyster pirates more than of the hardworking group.

The State of Maryland and the Department of Natural Resources have harnessed all the methods of modern technology to catch the outlaw poaching pirates of the Bay. Those methods include using State Police helicopters to track those tricky outlaws of the Bay, setting up radar and satellite technology and using old fashioned police work to snare those who wish to live life on the sly side.

Captured last November raiding an oyster sanctuary was William Cloyd Catlin Sr. and his brother Irving and in March of this year, William Catlin Sr. entered a guilty plea and was ordered to pay a fine of nearly a thousand dollars. As many watermen work with family members, they often poach with family members and employ the same habits of working around the rules.

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 2014.

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 2014.

One of the chief obstacles to levying fines of significance has been the relationship between States Attorneys and Judges in the counties which border the waterways and thus end up with citations and arrests being heard in the courts of those counties. Prosecutors and Judges have had long-standing friendships with many of the outlaw watermen and a bushel of crabs or oysters often resulted in charges being dropped or low fines being assessed. Where bribery was not a factor, local prosecutors could often find reason to toss a case, frustrating the DNR officers and making the watermen feel a great sense of bonding to the States Attorney in the next election.

As a result the State of Maryland has now set up special dockets in the courts in most Maryland counties where a designated prosecutor will have a hard time dumping cases and Judges will feel the spotlight. As a result, the first cases coming to trial this past year have seen significantly higher fines leveled at the transgressors.

The following is a look at the DNR and criminal records of William Cloyd Catlin Sr. and his son.

William Cloyd Catlin Jr DNR Citation History (DOB 07/07/1971)

Charged by Maryland State Trooper J. J. Resh with violating an ex-parte order on Nov. 1, 2004, the Somerset County States Attorney dropped the charge on March 11, 2005.

A warrant charging Catlin with being a fugitive from Justice in Ohio was served on March 24, 2008.

Charged by Crisfield Police Officer R. Taylor on Aug. 9, 2011 with driving while suspended. In Somerset County District Court on Sept. 9, 2011, States Attorney Daniel W. Powell dropped the charges. He was represented by the Assistant Public Defender in Princess Anne whose salary is paid by the taxpayers. Between his arrest and the court date, Catlin was incarcerated.

Charged with a course of conduct of harassment and repeated telephone misuse with repeated calls in Somerset County District Court, Catlin was found guilty of harassment in a plea deal with Somerset States Attorney Daniel W. Powell and fined zero dollars and sentenced to 90 days in jail with all of the jail time suspended. The telephone misuse charge was dropped.

Charged with assault for an incident which took place on May 4, 2012, the charges were dropped by Somerset County States Attorney Daniel W. Powell on June 24, 2013.

Charged with possession of marijuana, paraphernalia and prescription narcotics which were not prescribed to him on Aug. 9, 2011, Catlin was represented by the Public Defender, who struck a deal with Somerset County States Attorney Daniel W. Powell on Sept. 9, 2011 and Catlin entered a guilty plea to the pills and Powell dropped the other charges. As part of the deal, Catlin was sentenced to 12 months in jail with 10 months and 27 days suspended. He was incarcerated for the time period between being arrested and the trial date and therefore credited with 33 days of time served.

Cited by DNR Officer Matt Corbin on Jan. 3, 2013 for possession over limit of oysters. In Somerset County District Court, States Attorney Daniel W. Powell, Republican, dropped the charges on May 14, 2013.

Cited by DNR Officer Jeffrey Howard on Jan. 3, 2013 for possession of unculled oysters, Catlin went to trial in Somerset County District Court on March 29, 2013 where he entered a guilty plea and was fined $155.

Ordered by the Circuit Court Master Robert E. Laird on Nov. 12, 2013, in response to a child support warrant from the State of Ohio, to submit child support to the Child Support Administration.

William Cloyd Catlin Sr. (DOB Jan. 1949)

Upper Fairmount Md.

Cited by DNR Officer Cpl. Thomas Shores on May 6, 1993 with crab scraping on leased oyster beds, Catlin Sr. pleaded guilty in Somerset County District Court on June 11, 1993 and was fined $70 and ordered to pay court costs of $20.

Cited by DNR Officer on Nov. 4, 1994 with possession of undersize oysters, Catlin Sr. pleaded guilty in Somerset County District Court on Dec. 2, 1994 and was fined $70 and court costs of $20.

Cited by DNR Officer Thomas Shores with failing to attend to a drift net, Catlin Sr. was given a probation before judgment on June 21, 1996 and paid no fine and was put on probation for one year.

Cited by DNR Officer T. Shores on Nov. 1, 2000 with possession of undersized oysters. In District Court for Somerset County on Dec. 1, 2000 he was found guilty and fined $70 plus court costs of $20.

Cited by DNR Officer V. Kulynycz on Aug. 17, 2004 with having his crab pots in a restricted area Catlin Sr. entered a guilty plea on Sept. 9, 2004 and was fined $85.

Cited by DNR Officer J. W. Bromley IV on Nov. 25, 2013 with harvesting oysters from a sanctuary. In Somerset County District Court on March 3, 2014 he entered a plea of guilty and was found guilty by the Judge who fined him $977.50 and ordered to pay court costs of $22.50. The court records do not reflect that he was represented by counsel.

 Serious Fines Levied in Oyster Poaching from Sanctuary

The following article appeared in The CHESAPEAKE TODAY in April:

This is one Judge who didn’t get bribed with free oysters left on their back porch…

ANNAPOLIS, MD. — In the first major courtroom test of the Maryland Natural Resources Police’s newest enforcement tool, two Somerset County watermen were found guilty Monday of harvesting oysters from a State sanctuary.

Officers used the Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN), a radar and camera system, on Nov. 25 to track a vessel moving in and out of the Somerset Sanctuary in Tangier Sound. They subsequently charged William Cloyde Catlin and Irving Lee Catlin with dredging in the protected area.

District Judge Paula Price ordered the vessel’s captain, William Catlin, 64, of Upper Fairmount, to pay a $1,000 fine ─ $550 above the preset fine ─ and the mate, Irving Catlin, 55, of Westover, to pay a $450 fine. She gave them 30 days to appeal.

“When we launched our initiative in 2010 to restore Chesapeake Bay oysters, we included a tough conservation law enforcement component to protect this invaluable resource and let Marylanders know our commitment was rock solid,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “I’m pleased the court recognizes the importance of this effort.”

After viewing images recorded by the MLEIN system, Judge Price ruled that despite the watermen’s denials to the contrary, “it is clear to this court that you were in and out of the sanctuary, oystering.”

“We are grateful to the court for accepting the use of MLEIN in our conservation law enforcement efforts and to Governor O’Malley for supporting the development of this system,” said DNR Secretary Joe Gill.

Judge Price noted that William Catlin has a history of crabbing, oystering and fishing violations dating back to 1982, and that Irving Catlin has natural resources convictions going back to 1979.

She dismissed the watermen’s claims that it is sometimes difficult to stay outside the protected area and offered a suggestion: “If you’re afraid of drifting into a sanctuary then don’t go anywhere near one.”

The incident began shortly after 8 a.m., when an officer on land watched on his laptop as the Catlins crossed the boundary of the sanctuary, which is set aside by the State for oyster replenishment. The officer moved to his patrol boat to intercept them, all the while tracking their path on MLEIN.

During four passes inside the sanctuary, the watermen’s boat motored in a circular pattern, indicative of an oyster dredging operation. The officer sped to the location as the work boat attempted to flee the sanctuary with its dredge still in the water.

NRP was able to retrieve the data from MLEIN that was used as evidence.

MLEIN, adapted from the Pentagon’s geo-fencing initiative, became fully operational last fall. Each of the units in the network is able to cover up to 20 miles on the Chesapeake Bay, reaching from the mouth of the Susquehanna River to the Virginia state line.

“This is MLEIN’s first full season on the Bay, acting as an extra set of eyes for our officers,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “As we refine and expand its capabilities, and officers grow more comfortable working with it, we are confident the result will be more arrests and more convictions of poachers who steal Maryland’s natural resources.”

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Office of the Attorney General and the District Court of Maryland have expanded a successful program highlighting natural resources cases to 18 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions. Under the program, cases including fishing, hunting, boating and tree expert violations are heard on a specific day each month in the region where they occurred, and prosecuted by a designated regional State’s Attorney. NRP is working to have natural resource dockets put in place in the remaining six areas ─ Frederick, Harford, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Washington counties, and Baltimore City ─ by 2015.


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