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Maryland officers use radar, cameras to fight oyster poaching

Friday - 3/21/2014, 3:15pm  ET

WASHINGTON - Two men from Westover, Md., have been convicted in the first case using a new high-tech fence and detection system designed to protect Chesapeake Bay oysters.

William Catlin and his brother, Irving Catlin, will pay fines of $1,000 and $450, respectively, for illegally harvesting oysters from a Maryland oyster sanctuary.

The system, called the Maryland Law Enforcement Information Network high-tech monitoring system, employs radar and cameras in the Chesapeak Bay that was originally designed for homeland security purposes, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said. It can also be used for assisting first responders and monitoring water activities.

The system creates an electronic fence around certain areas, such as the bay's oyster sanctuaries, a bit like an invisible fence for dogs, Gansler explained. When the virtual fence line is crossed by a boat that enters the area, Maryland Natural Resources Police computers receive a "ping" and they can monitor the vessel from their computers.

"It's a struggle enough given the pollution over the last 50 years or so in the Chesapeake Bay to get oysters to be able to survive -- it becomes that much more difficult when you have illegal poaching going on of these oyster sanctuaries" and the technology helps stop that, Gansler said.

That was the case in late November 2013, when a Natural Resources officer saw what looked like an oyster dredging vessel inside sanctuary limits near Deal Island in Tangier Sound. Officers saw the boat and stopped it as it was exiting the sanctuary with oysters. The Catlin brothers had to return 7 bushels of oysters to the sanctuary and police gave them citations.

"We can say that is highly sophisticated machinery that was designed by homeland security, and so we're optimistic and very confident that this technology will be producing more results and we'll be able to apprehend more poachers down the road," Gansler said.

The network was established in 2010, and Maryland started using it to protect natural resources in 2013.

WTOP's Neal Augenstein and Beth Lawton contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP and @WTOPtech on Twitter and and WTOP on Facebook.

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