ANNAPOLIS — State lawmakers will consider a bill that would allow the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to quickly make changes to a fishing season or a fishery without having to go through the regulatory process.
A cross-filed bill in the state General Assembly would authorize the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to bypass the regulatory process for certain actions in a fishery after a regulation has been adopted in the normal fashion.
“It essentially makes it very crystal clean in the law that the way DNR has been implementing fishery management plans is, in fact, legal,” Richard Norling, legislative officer for DNR, said.
The bills, filed in both the Senate and House as Bill 145, says that after a regulation is adopted, DNR may, by public notice, open, close, set or modify a fishing season; modify or restrict a harvestable area; and establish harvest times and days, catch limits, quotas, size limits or reporting requirements for a fishery.
As an example, Norling said that if a fishery has an allocation that it can’t exceed, DNR will estimate when it’s going to be met. If DNR wanted to close the fishery by a certain date in order to not exceed the state allocation, it currently would have to start the process of closing the fishery far ahead of when it wants to and go through the regulatory process, which includes submitting the modification into the registry and allowing time for public comment.
The bill makes it so that DNR would be able to give public notice 48 hours ahead of when a fishery is planned to close. Likewise, Norling said DNR would also be able to reopen the fishery again if it’s found out the allocation was not met.
“Many of the fisheries, they measure the catch during the season so they know when they’re getting close to the quota. Instead of having to make that judgment when the fishery needs to close 30 or 60 days ahead of time, the public notice allows them to make it much closer to when the full quota was caught,” Norling said. “If we don’t do that and we have to go to the figures ahead of time, they’d have to be conservative and there would probably be some fish that would have been caught by the commercial fishermen that would produce income for them.”
Norling said establishing a specific quota for a fishery would still have to go through the normal promulgation process for regulations.
Norling called it a “housekeeping” bill that’s not aimed at any specific species and wouldn’t change the way fisheries and regulations are managed at DNR, but would just “allow quicker action for things that need to be done quickly.”
Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, said the bill was introduced to the House floor Monday, Jan. 13.
Jacobs, a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, said the bill would allow DNR to extend harvest days for a fishery for a given length of time, depending on whether the weather was bad. However, he said the adverse side of that is if DNR wanted to close a fishery a week early, that could happen, too.
Jacobs said he wants to find out if DNR is using this bill to be more restrictive or lenient with its fishery management. He said DNR Secretary Joe Gill didn’t describe the bill as making it easier for DNR to be more restrictive, though some watermen are calling him and expressing that very concern.
”They haven’t been watermen-friendly for the last few years, so I don’t know if this would make a tool for them to be more restrictive or more generous,” Jacobs said. “Given the history, I would say it would become a tool to make it easier to be more restrictive.”
He said he’s going to have a one-on-one meeting with the primary sponsor of the House version of the bill, Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-43-Baltimore City, who is chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, and see what her interpretation of the bill is.
Jacobs said he’ll be following this bill until the end.
There’s a Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing on the bill scheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21, and a hearing in the House Environmental Matters Committee is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29.