Two Maryland fishermen who were found guilty of poaching and selling nearly $500,000 of striped bass have been banned for life from fishing for striped bass.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources imposed the lifetime bans on Michael Hayden Jr. and William Lednum, who have also been suspended from all commercial fishing for the next year. Hayden and Lednum remain responsible for $498,000 in court-ordered restitution to the state of Maryland.
The investigation of the two men began in February 2011, when the Maryland Natural Resources Police found tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass snagged in illegal, anchored nets before the season officially opened. The discovery led to a temporary shutdown of the commercial season by state officials.
Investigators from Natural Resources Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed evidence, which showed that beginning in 2007, Hayden and Lednum shipped and sold at least 10 tons of striped bass – worth $498,293 – to wholesalers in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. None of the fish were properly reported.
After being indicted in 2013 by a federal grand jury on 26 counts of conspiracy and violating the Lacey Act, Hayden and Lednum entered into plea agreements, where they admitted to using illegally weighted and/or anchored gill nets, leaving the nets in the water overnight, and setting the nets during times when the commercial striped bass gill-netting season was closed. Further, they admitted they falsified the permit allocation cards and daily catch records for their fishing trips to over-report the numbers of striped bass caught and under-report the weights. This allowed them to request additional state tags under false pretenses.
In February 2015, Hayden was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by six months of home detention and three years of supervised release. He was ordered to pay a fine of $40,000. Lednum received a prison sentence of one year and one day, six months of home detention and a fine of $40,000.
In a statement Monday, Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said “The department has acted to protect the species as well as the interests of those who rely on the striped bass fishery for their livelihood. We hope this sends a strong signal to poachers that the state is serious about protecting the fishery.”