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Watermen sentenced to year-plus

Four commercial fishermen from Maryland’s Eastern Shore have been sentenced in federal court for illegally netting and selling more than 90 tons of rockfish and pocketing almost a half-million dollars in profits over four years.
    The watermen used gill nets, particularly effective gear used in the Chesapeake since 1873. Gill nets snare fish by the gills in a mesh that allows the fish’s head to enter while preventing its body from following. Some 300 commercial gill-netters operate on the Chesapeake.
    Almost impossible to detect once anchored in place, three technological developments have made these nets so deadly that they may be a threat to our rockfish population.
    First was the development of translucent, nylon monofilament. Gill nets constructed of this material are virtually invisible to the fish and much more effective in catching them.
    The second development was the electronic fish finder. With fish finders, watermen can easily locate populations of rockfish, especially in winter when schools tend to linger in an area.
    The final development was the GPS. While greatly assisting commercial watermen in navigation, GPS also enabled poachers to set anchored nets with geographic precision and to return under cover of darkness or bad weather and quickly locate them for retrieval.
    Because of proven by-catch mortality, anchored gill nets have been outlawed in Maryland waters since 1992. Only legal are attended, free-floating drift nets with a five- to seven-inch mesh size that limits most rockfish catches to legal-sized fish. Gill nets can legally be up to 3,500 yards long, though in practice most are less.

Crime and Punishment
    The watermen in question broke the law in several ways: by using unattended, anchored gill nets; by fishing outside of the commercial season; and by falsifying catch records and evading Maryland regulations. The fish were sold to wholesale markets in surrounding states.
    Federal law under the Lacey Act prohibits crossing state lines to sell fish caught illegally. Thus the sentences came in U.S. District Court.
    “The scale of this conspiracy was massive,” said federal prosecutor Todd Gleason. “It coincides with a steady decline of striped bass. We are heading back to the levels near the moratorium.”
    The two Tilghman Island watermen running the operation were each sentenced to more than a year. Michael Hayden Jr., who also was found guilty of witness intimidation, will serve 18 months plus three years home detention. William Lednum, who expressed remorse, was sentenced to a year and a day. One helper was sentenced to 30 days to be served on weekends; another escaped with probation and a fine.
    Three of the four were each fined $40,000. The two main operators were also made liable for restitution of rockfish valued at nearly $500,000. The penalties are among the most severe ever handed down for Natural Resource violations.
    These are also the first major instances of illegal netters brought to justice in Maryland despite years of rumors about illegal wintertime netting. According to one of the principle defendants, William Lednum, these illicit activities have been a common practice among many watermen, but he was the only one caught. The witness operating the station where the fish were checked in, and who testified to falsifying documents with the watermen to cover the illegal catches, also explained that his actions were merely a routine industry practice.
    Understaffing at Natural Resources Police is one key reason for these problems. The number of water-patrolling officers has been reduced by half over the last decade, while Department of Natural Resources personnel dedicated to verifying and double-checking reported catch data and seafood wholesaler records continue to be low. Cheating and under-reporting commercial catch information thus remain unchecked.
    No further discoveries of illegal gill netting of this scope have been made since these arrests. However, considering the extreme difficulty of detecting the activity, the vastness of the Chesapeake and the significant financial rewards to be gained it would be foolish to assume that it is not still occurring.

Look and listen before they leave

Trumpeter swans returned to Chesapeake Country after many years.
    “I have lived at this location on the Chesapeake Bay for 19 years and have never observed trumpeter swans before,” said life-long bird watcher Randy Kiser of Shady Side. “Their sound was unmistakable, so different from the tundras.
    “They stayed for about an hour and then moved on,” Kiser said.
    He wasn’t alone in his trumpeter sighting.
    A D.C. Ornithological Society birdwatcher confirmed that Kiser’s five “was the largest group identified in a long time.”
    Five were also reported in St. Michaels that same February afternoon.
    How to tell them apart from the more common migratory tundra or invasive mute swan?
    Trumpeters have all-black bills, while tundra swans have black bills with a tear­drop of yellow near their eyes and mute swans have bright orange bills with a black knob on top.
    Trumpeters have their necks kinked back at the bottom in a hard C-shape.
    The biggest difference is sound.
    Trumpeters have a very loud, trumpet-like call; hence their name. It’s mainly a gentle honk, like a single short toot on a horn, repeated, often in series of two to three notes, do-do-doo.
    Hurry to catch a glimpse of these Chesapeake visitors. The spring thaw in mid-March to early-April signals their departure. So Chesapeake County is vacated by swans just about the time osprey return.

Native seeds need to cool down before sprouting

Seeds of native plants in the temperate region require chilling, called stratification, before they can germinate and grow seedlings. The acorn of the mighty oak must be stratified before it can germinate in the spring. But don’t go placing acorns in the freezer before planting.
    In nature’s cycle, acorns fall to the ground in the fall, while the ground is still warm and moist. On the ground, some are covered with leaves; some are gathered and buried by squirrels. Soon after landing, acorns begin to absorb moisture. Slowly, the ground cools. As soon as soil temperatures drop to near 45 degrees, stratification begins. When soil temperatures drop below freezing, stratification stops. As temperatures rise above freezing, stratification continues. Nature’s alternate freezing and thawing enhances germination.
    Each plant species has its own length of time for stratification. In species that grow over a wide range of latitudes, stratification periods can vary considerably. For instance, the red maple tree has a growing range from ­Quebec to northern Florida.
    The stratification period for seeds taken from trees native to Quebec is shorter than for seeds from trees native to northern Florida. This is because the ground freezes earlier and stays frozen longer in Quebec than in northern Florida. In northern Florida the soil seldom freezes hard, but it is cold enough that seeds germinating in early spring would be killed by frost. This phenomenon was verified when red maple seeds harvested from trees growing near Quebec were planted in northern Florida and seeds harvested from red maples originating in northern Florida were sown in soil near Quebec. The Quebec seedlings germinated in the middle of Florida’s winter and were killed by frost, while the seeds from Florida never germinated in Quebec.
    To artificially stratify seeds from our region, mix them with moist sand blended with some peat moss and allow them to absorb moisture for at least two weeks. Then refrigerate for another six to eight weeks before sowing. This is more or less following the normal daily temperature cycle.
    The lazy way of germinating native plant seeds is to sow them in the fall in a well-prepared soil with at least three percent organic matter. Cover the seedbed with a board to prevent winter weeds from growing. The seeds will undergo natural stratification.
    In the spring, at about the time the buds of trees are starting to show color, remove the board covering the seed bed and watch for seedlings to emerge.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Put your down time to work

Don’t wait for April to begin tackle or boat preparations because by then it will be too late. This weekend if not today, check on your fishing gear. Examine your rods, inspect your reels, check out your boat equipment.
    Which reels need to be re-spooled? Which need maintenance? Turn your reel handles with pressure on the spool. Are your drags smooth? Do they freeze or hesitate before they release? The drag washers may need to be cleaned and repacked with grease.
    Check your reel handles. Do they turn smoothly? Are the bushings and bearings clean, or are they corroded and rough? Check the free spool lever. Does the reel spool disengage freely? Does it re-engage promptly? This one is a show-stopper. If you can’t put your reel back in gear, you will be unable to land your fish, even retrieve your line.
    If your reels need any kind of maintenance, now is the time to send them off. Currently, you can expect them to be repaired or serviced within one or two weeks. But if you wait until just before opening day, you might not get them back for a month or more.
    Closely inspect your rod guides. A cracked guide ring may be difficult to see, but it will shred your line the first time a good fish puts some pressure on your tackle. Rod guides that show corrosion in a joint area or have been bent should be replaced. They can and will collapse at the first inopportune moment. Repairs and replacements can be accomplished promptly now as rod craftsmen are still in a slow period.
    Look over your hooks, sinkers and lures. Are your bucktails and parachutes still in good condition, or are the hair and skirts twisted and deformed from being put up carelessly? If they are, they won’t track or work properly in the water. Now is the time to correct that. Put them in hot water for a soak, then lay them out on a towel to dry.
    Replace any rusted hooks. A rusty hook requires three or four times the force as a new hook to penetrate a fish’s mouth — more if the fish is a big one. File off the rust and sharpen the points on any hooks that can’t be replaced. Wipe them down with WD-40 so they won’t re-rust before the season opens.
    Check out all your boat gear. Are your flares and fire extinguishers still operational and with valid dates? Are all of your life preservers still functional, and do you have enough of them? Don’t be that guy on opening day going from store to store trying to find flares, whistles, throwable floatation devices or an extra PFD for a last-minute guest. You can get a Natural Resources Police citation and be ordered off the water if any of these are missing.
    Check your paperwork. Do you have your boat registration certificate, and is it current? It’s required when you’re on the water. Now is a good time to get your new fishing license for yourself or for the boat.
    Put the license sticker on your bow promptly and be sure to keep the paperwork on-board; that’s also required now by Natural Resources Police officers, though it is not well advertised. Check your hull boat numbers and registration stickers. They can disappear over a nasty winter or may have been stripped off by hard running the previous season. That could mean a ticket on opening day.
    Run a power and cell check on your boat battery; batteries like to go dead over winter and can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to replace at 5am opening day. Perform an on-site review of all your boat’s electrical circuits. Are all your navigation lights operating and if they’re not, is it the bulb, the wiring or the switch?
    Are your fish finder and GPS fully functional? Does your marine radio still work? Is your bilge pump operating properly? Failure of any of these devices can turn opening day into an experience in frustration or worse.
    Get these jobs done now, and you can relax, confident in the knowledge that all you need to do on opening day is wake up on time and have luck in your corner.

Oh, the creatures we’ve seen

You find them sitting atop shelves at libraries, inside toy chests and in the hands of parents turning well-worn pages in a nighttime ritual of reading the rhymes, words and wisdom of Dr. Seuss and his unforgettable characters.
    From 1928 until his death in 1990, Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote and illustrated 60-plus books for children and adults as Dr. Seuss.
    The Seuss menagerie includes Horton the elephant who preaches that all people are important; the mischievous brat Cat in the Hat; the Lorax, who speaks for the trees from his thorax; the Grinch, who rescues Whoville in a pinch; and Sam I Am, who pesters an unnamed character in a text of 50 words to try Green Eggs and Ham.
    If Seuss were alive, he’d be celebrating his 111th birthday on March 2, a day that’s been adopted as National Read Across America Day.
    On July 28, more creatures will join the menagerie.
    The literary equivalent of buried treasure, Dr. Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get? is set for release. Probably written between 1958 and 1962, the manuscript was found in his office by his widow and secretary in 2013. Two characters are the brother and sister who listen to Seuss’ telling of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Some bloom only in short days; ­others, only in long days

Did you know that in many plants, flowering — and bulbing — is based on the number of hours of exposure to light?
    This fact of plant biology explains many mysteries. Understand it, and you’ll be a smarter and more successful gardener.
    If you expose a chrysanthemum or poinsettia to more than 11 hours of light each day, it will never flower. The triggering mechanism that forces these species into flowering is exposure to no more than 10 hours of light. Those conditions of light are called short days and long nights. Interrupting their 14-hour night with even a flash of light can prevent flowering.
    During long daylight hours, greenhouse growers cover these species with shade cloths to force them to flower out of season. That’s why chrysanthemums are available throughout the year.
    Nature’s cycle of short days and long nights begins in late summer. This natural cycle enables us to enjoy fall mums and greenhouse growers to grow poinsettias without having to shade them.
    In the fall, some chrysanthemums flower earlier than others. This range is possible because breeders have developed cultivars with different maturing periods. Chrysanthemums’ short-day classification further divides into six-week, eight-week, 10-week and 12-week cultivars. These numbers refer to the number of weeks from the time a plant is exposed to 10 or fewer hours of light until the flower buds show color. By selecting different varieties, you can have chrysanthemums flowering in your garden for many weeks.
    Short-day woody plants include azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods, lilacs, spring-flowering roses and viburnums, to name a few. The flower buds on these plants are produced late summer and early fall for flowering in the spring.
    Long-day plants flower all summer long.  This includes bedding plants and woody ornamentals such as fuchsia, crape myrtle, hybrid-T and floribunda roses, some hydrangea and hibiscus, among others. When daylight hours fall under 10, the plants remain in a vegetative state of growth.
    Many varieties of onions are also classified as long- or short-day varieties. For long-day onions to form bulbs, they must be planted in the spring and form bulbs when the days are long. Short-day onions — as well as garlic — are planted in the fall and form bulbs when daylight hours are short. Plant short-day onions in the spring, and you’ll only get green onions.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

After 9 years, Coast Guard mascot Rosie gets First Class promotion

At a Coast Guard station, where the crew is often separated from friends and family, the extra boost provided by a dog goes a long way. About half of all Coast Guard stations has a mascot dog.
    “It’s about morale” says fireman Justin Singleton, who’s been at Coast Guard Station Annapolis for a year. “She keeps us in good spirits.”
    Rosie, a black Lab, had served as station mascot for nine years without a promotion. All Coast Guard promotions — even First Class Dog — must be earned. So with dedication and a generous supply of training kibble, Rosie’s crewmates helped her master the skills and commands to rise to First Class.
    With three gold stripes to signify her new rank, Rosie continues her primary duty at the station.
    “She’s usually the first to greet visitors,” say Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Andrew Vardakis.

Read more about Rosie at: http://tinyurl.com/n57v2xz

It’s the most important link between you and your fish

Working at sports stores has given me a long-term look at a critical and often overlooked item of tackle: monofilament fishing line. Taking your line for granted can lead to very unfortunate results.
    Monofilament fishing line was developed more than 75 years ago by DuPont Chemical Company as a spin-off of nylon, the first synthetic plastic. Those early efforts produced stiff, springy lines that had too much memory, tangled easily and were brittle.
    Braided lines made of linen (from the flax plant) or cotton were the overwhelming choice of anglers. These braids were strong for their diameter, supple and relatively easy to handle with the revolving spool reels used by most fishers of that period.
    Braided natural fiber fishing lines continued to hold sway over anglers for the next 20 years. Those lines did, however, have two distinct drawbacks: They tended to deteriorate if not dried properly, and they were visible to the fish.
    Eventually chemists solved all the technical problems with monofilament. In 1959, DuPont introduced Stren, a soft, pliable fishing line with excellent strength and very low visibility in the water. Over the same period, spinning reels advanced in popularity. The new monofilament line was embraced by spin anglers as the perfect application for their tackle.
    DuPont’s product was so successful that it was copied by many other manufacturers. Monofilament has been continually improved. It is superb fishing line: inexpensive, with great strength to diameter and with low visibility in the water.
    Its one drawback: It does not last forever.
    The ultraviolet rays from sunshine, fluorescent lighting and more will eventually break down the structure of monofilament, causing it to fail under stress. Knot strength is the first thing to suffer, while the line itself appears unchanged.
    If monofilament is unused and stored in a cool, dark environment it will last a few years. Outside in sunlight or inside exposed to the light of fluorescent bulbs and tubes, its life expectancy is limited. Manufacturers recommend replacing line every season.
    The life of line gets still more complicated. Because manufacturers do not date their products’ creation, consumers have no way of knowing the age of a newly purchased spool of monofilament. Nor do we know under what conditions that line was stored.
    Most tackle shops routinely rotate the inventory, so monofilament lines are constantly refreshed by newly manufactured supplies. But the buyer has to beware. A spool of line that has remained in a store’s inventory for long periods, especially if exposed to UV light, will likely fail under stress. The longer it has been retained, the more likely it is to break down.
    Purchase your line from reputable sporting goods retailers that frequently turn over their inventory. Higher quality lines are going to resist UV deterioration far longer than less expensive lines.
    One simple test of monofilament’s integrity is to tie an overhand knot in the line and give it a good strong tug. The overhand knot is not recommended for fishing because it cuts into itself. Fresh lines with this knot in them will still be difficult to break. However, monofilament compromised by age or UV exposure will fail at a mere fraction of its rated strength.
    Your monofilament fishing line is probably the least expensive component of all of your tackle. But it is the single most important link between you and your fish. Respect and replace it frequently.
    When not in use, store your tackle with reel covers that shield the line from UV rays. Or keep your tackle in a cool, dark room. Remember also that today’s energy-efficient compact-fluorescent bulbs produce UV rays.

Yellow perch are climbing the rivers

The yellow perch run is on. It may seem early, but small male yellow perch have been caught in a number of locations around the state for over three weeks. That can only mean one thing: The bigger fish will show up any time — if not already.
    These yellow neds are on the move, swimming to the headwaters of Bay tributaries to spawn.
    Driven by increasing daylight and temperatures, the scent of their natal waters and mysterious Mother Nature, this species is the first of the year to appear in numbers in the fresher water of the Chesapeake.
    Minimum size is nine inches and the daily limit is 10 fish per day. They are particularly delicious, rivaling white perch for table quality. Fried and paired with sliced tomatoes, simmered greens and corn bread on the side, they make the finest meal you can serve this time of year.
    Light- to medium-weight spin tackle spooled with six- to 10-pound mono will do just fine for tangling with the neds, whose size can run up to 15 inches or more (a citation is 14 inches). They will eat earthworms, bloodworms, grass shrimp, minnows and even wax worms.
    With water temperatures this time of year generally under 40 degrees, the fish do not respond well to artificial lures. But when fish abound, they can be caught on shad darts, small Tony and Nungusser spoons, Rooster Tails, Mepps spinners and small jig heads with soft plastic curly tails.
    My preference is a five-foot-four-inch, light-action spin rod, six-pound line and a tandem rig with a gold number 12 Tony and a lip-hooked minnow on the long leg and on the shorter a 1/16-ounce shad dart tipped with a grass shrimp, all fished under a weighted bobber.
    Casting the rig out toward likely spawning areas such as flooded brush or downed trees in three to four feet of water, I twitch the rig back slowly, continually working over a large area until I locate fish. The bite is generally tide driven, with a falling tide just after the flood the best.
    When fishing a low tide, target the deeper areas in the center of creeks and rivers and fish your baits close to the bottom. Since the fish are constantly on the move, you never know when or where you’re going to find them, so moving around and trying one area after another, either from a boat or from shore, is the strategy for success.
    It is also a good idea to have on hand a big Mepps spinner in size 3 or 4, silver or gold, dressed with squirrel or bucktail. If your yellow perch action suddenly dies off or hasn’t yet materialized, try casting the larger lure. Quite often a large pickerel or two (which follow the schools of yellow perch this time of year) have moved into the area and queered the perch bite. The Pickerel will be suckers for the big Mepps and an exciting addition to your day.
    The Department of Natural Resources website maps a number of locations where yellow perch fish have been caught during the spring run on both the Western and Eastern Shores: http://dnr2.maryland.gov/Fisheries/Pages/maps.aspx.

Turn that manure into compost instead of applying it to fields

The new governor of Maryland has made a major error in allowing poultry farmers to continue applying their phosphorus-laden chicken manure on land that is already overloaded with phosphorus.
    What the chicken farmers and the governor are ignoring is scientific evidence that clearly identifies excessive levels of phosphorus in soils as the cause for phosphorus-induced trace element deficiencies, lower yields, lower nutrient values and Bay pollution.
    The smarter strategy is to grow soybeans one year then corn the next. Legumes like soybeans fix their own nitrogen and leave plenty in the ground to grow a crop of corn the following year. If this rotation were followed, farmers would only need to apply potassium when soil call for it. When the soil needs potassium, it can be added as either potassium chloride or potassium sulfate, both cheaper to apply than tons of chicken manure.
    Phosphorus is essential to plant growth. But too much causes other essential plant nutrients to bind to it, starving plant roots. Such essential trace elements as iron, zinc and copper are essential to plant growth, as are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
    In the mid 1970s I was asked by fellow University of Maryland faculty members who specialized in vegetable crops to review soil tests from fields of sweet potatoes near Salisbury. The total phosphorus levels in those soils were so high that they were reducing yields. I recommended they stop applying phosphorus and apply only nitrogen. This was a major change in culture for these farmers because they had been accustomed to applying tons of 10-10-10 before planting each season’s crop.
    So much phosphorus had been applied that it took several years with none before yields started to increase.
    In the early 1980s, rhododendron growers tried dosing their plants with lots of phosphorus to force them into flower under shade. It worked, but it also stunted growth and caused iron deficiency symptoms on the foliage. Full sun alone would have produced healthy tall plants with flowers.
    My conclusion from these and other studies is that plants do not need much phosphorus to be productive.
    Over-applying phosphorus not only leads to reduced yields and lower nutritional value. It also contributes to Bay pollution.
    Allowing farmers to make yearly applications of chicken manure on soils already saturated with phosphorus lowers yields of grain and forage crops. Since most of these farmers do not plant cover crops, their phosphorus-enriched soils erode into the Bay.
    There are other better uses for chicken manure, as compost or as a source of energy. The ornamental horticulture industry — the second largest agricultural industry in Maryland and the nation — is a ready market for quality compost. Yet Maryland has to import compost from as far as Maine to meet its needs. Maryland Environmental Services is well versed in the science and technology of making compost.
    Gov. Hogan, please encourage chicken farmers to form a co-op to manufacture and market compost.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.