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Investigators issued more than 3,300 citations or formal warnings to people poaching or illegally harvesting crabs in Maryland since 2014.
In more than 750 cases, police issued citations or warnings against people with undersized crabs, which are illegal to harvest and sell.
State records found police investigated at least six cases of crab theft in the past two years.
Maryland’s famed blue crabs are luring illegal harvesters and thieves, according to a review by the News4 I-Team.
Records obtained from the Maryland Natural Resources Police show investigators issued more than 3,300 citations or formal warnings to people poaching or illegally harvesting crabs since 2014. Some of the violations risk the livelihoods of the state’s professional watermen and future populations of crabs in state waterways.
In one of those cases in August, a judge convicted Robert Allen Dorrier of Pasadena for a string thefts of crabs from the pots of professional watermen on the Chesapeake Bay. Witnesses at Dorrier’s trial in Anne Arundel County District Court said he used a small green boat to approach and empty the pots. One witness, who declined to share his name with News4, said Dorrier was seen doing so just before 6 p.m. after the professional watermen left the area for the evening.
“He was going pot to pot every 30 seconds, taking the pots and throwing them back without closing the lids,” the witness said.
Dorrier declined to speak in his own defense at his trial. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail for the thefts.
The I-Team’s review of state records found police investigated at least five other cases of crab theft in the past two years, but it also found other, more subtle rule-breaking is more common on the bay, rivers and creeks in the state.
In more than 750 cases, police issued citations or warnings against people found in possession of undersized crabs, which are illegal to harvest and sell because doing so jeopardizes future crab populations. Along the Patuxent River in August, the I-Team followed a Natural Resources Police patrol. Within an hour of launching, police found three watermen in possession of a batch of undersized crabs.
Natural Resources Police Officer Justin Ball said the agency regularly measures the catches of watermen to ensure undersized crabs aren’t harvested.
“We like to catch them as soon we can so that they are in compliance,” Ball said. “(We want them) to know that we're out here so they stay in compliance."
In recent months, police announced the arrests of several other watermen for doing so. A Somerset County waterman was charged with having 328 undersized male crabs in August. A Wicomico County waterman was found in possession of undersized crabs when Natural Resources Police checked his catch on his boat.
In July, a Virginia man was charged with having more than 600 undersize crabs after police saw unloading his catch in Crisfield.
Watermen interviewed by the I-Team along the Patuxent River said police patrols help protect the industry. Charles County waterman Irvin Chappalier said thieves and poachers jeopardize his business.
“It's hard to make a living,” Chappalier said. “Crabbing's good right now, but it hasn't been good for most of the summer."
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.