Rockfish Poachers

Pictured is a small portion of the thousands of pounds of rockfish that were recovered from illegal anchored gill nets off Kent Island.

TILGHMAN — A Tilghman Island waterman was sentenced to prison Friday, Feb. 27, for his role in an illegal striped bass harvest operation, the last of four men to be sentenced in the case.

U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Michael D. Hayden, 43, of Tilghman Island, to 18 months in prison, followed by six months of home detention as part of three years of supervised release. Hayden also is ordered to pay almost $500,000 in restitution to Maryland and a $40,000 fine.

“Mr. Hayden is being held justly accountable for his role at the head of a conspiracy to plunder protected striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden said. “The Justice Department, working closely with our state partners, will continue to protect these shared resources for the law abiding watermen of the Bay with vigorous prosecution of those who do not follow the law.”

According to his plea agreement and court documents, Hayden was a captain on fishing vessels owned by him and his company, which employed numerous helpers including co-defendants Kent Sadler, 31, of Tilghman Island, and Lawrence “Daniel” Murphy, 37, of St. Michaels.

An investigation started in 2011 off the coast of Kent Island after the Natural Resources Police found tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass snagged in illegal, anchored nets before the season officially reopened.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, the discovery triggered a massive investigation, generated a series of new laws and closed the commercial striped bass season three weeks early to prevent overfishing.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that from at least 2007 to 2011, Hayden and co-defendant, William J. Lednum, 41, of Tilghman Island, engaged in a scheme that resulted in at least 185,925 pounds of striped bass being illegally harvested from the Bay.

The two violated Maryland regulations relating to harvest method, amounts, tagging and reporting. They used illegally weighted and anchored gill nets, left the nets in the water overnight, and set the nets during times when the commercial striped bass gill-netting season was closed, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The two admitted to falsifying paperwork related to their harvests and submitting those falsified documents to DNR, which in turn submitted that paperwork to numerous federal and interstate agencies responsible for setting harvest levels all along the Eastern Seaboard, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Lednum and Hayden shipped and sold the striped bass to wholesalers in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, receiving a total of $498,293 — also the restitution amount — for the poached fish.

Bennet found that Hayden obstructed justice during the investigation, which increased his sentence.

“I commend the men and women of the Natural Resources Police who, with our federal partners, are committed to upholding the laws that protect Maryland’s fish and wildlife,” said Mark Belton, DNR secretary-designate. “And I thank the citizens who came forward with tips to aid this extensive investigation.”

Lednum, Murphy and Sadler previously pleaded guilty to their participation in the conspiracy.

Lednum was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay a $40,000 fine and restitution of nearly $500,000. Murphy was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and $30,000 in restitution. Sadler was sentenced to 30 days in prison, to be served on the weekends from Jan. 30 to May 17, and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and $20,000 in restitution.

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