Gizzard shad are frozen and shipped to southern states for use as crawfish bait. Photo courtesy of Patrick Garvey/ Maryland DNR

Bill to Allow Commercial Seine Fishing in Some Annapolis Waters Draws Outcry

A measure in the Maryland House of Delegates that would open three Annapolis creeks to commercial haul seine fishing is getting stiff opposition from neighbors and conservation groups alike.

HB 843, which was heard last week by the state House Environment and Transportation Committee, would repeal “certain provisions of law that restrict the length of a haul seine that a person may use in certain waters of Anne Arundel County,” meaning that commercial nets of 750 feet could be used instead of only the 50-foot nets typically used for scientific research.

The “certain waters” in question include Lake Ogleton, Meredith Creek, and Whitehall Creek, all in and around the wide mouth of the Severn River. Watermen use seine nets to fish for gizzard shad, a relatively new commercial fishery, which are sold and shipped to Southern states like Louisiana and Mississippi to be used for crawfish bait. Most gizzard shad fishing happens in January, February, and the first half of March, explained Robert T. Brown, Maryland Watermen’s Association president, in the committee hearing.

Brown and his counterpart at the Anne Arundel County Watermen’s Association, Bill Scerbo, say the gizzard shad fishery is “very beneficial” to watermen.

“Especially in the time of COVID…this will allow watermen another avenue to fall back on to pay the rent,” Scerbo says. The bill has support from Maryland Department of Natural Resources, says its sponsor, Del. Seth Howard (R-30B)

But what about other species who get swept up in the nets? The Coastal Conservation Association-Maryland (CCA) have come out strongly against the measure, questioning the damage that bycatch would inflict.

While Brown says watermen throw back all illegal fish when they haul seine, CCA Maryland’s Larry Jennings disputes that claim, saying tens of thousands of pounds of unsorted fish are loaded into tractor-trailers in these high-volume operations.

On Meredith Creek, neighbor Tom Schatz tells Bay Bulletin, “I am a lifelong resident (70+ years) on Meredith Creek and a former river keeper. This small and pristine habitat for populations of fish, eagles, ospreys, herons, migratory birds, other sea birds, ducks and various mammals would be devastated by the passing of HB 843.”

SRA says the river advocacy group “wasn’t so much as given a heads up” that the bill was coming, and that “other recreational fishing, environmental and community groups have been similarly left in the dark.”

The organization writes in an email, “It gives the appearance that someone is trying to sneak something past the residents and recreational fishermen who use the waters targeted by this bill.”

Community associations from Bay Ridge community—about 460 water-privileged households—and three other communities bordering Lake Ogleton also feel there should have been outreach from the bill’s sponsor.

The major issue at hand: water access. Neighbors argue that the headwaters of Lake Ogleton and Meredith and Whitehall Creeks are much too narrow for large nets.

“Allowing commercial fishing in these waterways would make recreational use much more difficult if not impossible, while these nets are in use due to the narrow width of these waterways. Additionally, studies have shown that the use of seine gear can impact essential submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) habitats by disturbing bottom sediment and increasing turbidity,” says Bay Ridge Civic Association President Ryan Stangle, in a statement to Bay Bulletin.

In a letter from the civic association marina, Pier Committee Chair Kurt Karsten writes, “Lake Ogleton…is a tributary/cove off the Severn River which, at its widest is about 600 feet and at its longest is about 750 feet and it has houses on 50 foot waterfront lots, all around it, with piers at almost every lot, and multiple recreational boats at almost every pier, not to mention the four community piers that house hundreds of boats, all of which use these small waterways extensively throughout the boating and fishing season. A Haul Seine of up to 750 feet would cause unimaginable chaos and could result in serious injury or death given that situation.”  

-Meg Walburn Viviano