Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced that his Environmental Crimes Unit has obtained criminal convictions against watermen Benjamin Byers, Brandon Mende, and Brian Hambleton for violations of natural resources oyster regulations in Queen Anne’s County. The three men were convicted of the criminal misdemeanor of removing oysters from a sanctuary bed, and Mende was additionally convicted of commercial oystering without a license. Judge Douglas H. Everngam imposed a fine of $1,500 against each defendant, suspending $1,000 of that amount and ordered each defendant to serve 18 months probation. Brandon Mende was additionally fined $300 for oystering without a license.
Cpl. Roy Rafter of the Maryland Natural Resources Police testified that while he was on duty in the area, he saw the three co-defendants in a designated oyster sanctuary known as Possum Point in the Corsica River. The three men were seen removing oysters from the sanctuary with hand tongs. Rafter was able to track the men as they departed from the area and they were detained shortly thereafter and criminal citations were issued.
At sentencing, Assistant Attorney General Michelle Barnes noted that the restoration of oysters and oyster reefs are considered essential to the rehabilitation of the Chesapeake Bay. Ongoing problems with poaching and sanctuary violations are making the task of improving Maryland’s waterways and increasing the numbers of fish, crabs and oysters much more difficult. Assistant Attorney General Barnes argued that imposing maximum fines even for a first offense was an important tool for deterrence.
In making the announcement, Attorney General Gansler thanked Assistant Attorney General Michelle Barnes for her work on the case. In addition the Attorney General thanked Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Police, and Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney Lance Richardson for their assistance and cooperation in these cases.