Rockfish poachers

Department of Natural Resources workers unload illegally caught rockfish at the DNR facility at Matapeake on Kent Island in February 2011.

BALTIMORE — A Talbot County waterman was sentenced Wednesday, Dec. 17, for his involvement in a four-year, $500,000 striped bass poaching ring.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett sentenced William J. Lednum, 41, of Tilghman Island, to a year and a day in prison, followed by six months of home detention as part of three years of supervised release. Lednum is to pay nearly $500,000 in restitution and a $40,000 fine.

“We are pleased with today’s court decision,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Joe Gill. “This individual was stealing from Maryland citizens and law-abiding (watermen). We are proud of the great work done by Maryland Natural Resources Police officers.”

Lednum and co-defendant Michael D. Hayden, 43, also of Tilghman Island, were captains of fishing vessels that they owned. They employed two other co-defendants, Lawrence “Daniel” Murphy, 37, of St. Michaels, and Kent Conley Sadler, 31, of Tilghman Island.

Lednum, Hayden, Murphy and Sadler all pleaded guilty to their involvement in the poaching scheme — Lednum and Hayden pleaded guilty in August.

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

According to the DNR, 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, Lednum and Hayden engaged in a scheme that resulted in at least 185,925 pounds of striped bass being illegally harvested from the Chesapeake 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.

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.

Murphy was scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, Dec. 19, Sadler’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 7 and Hayden’s sentencing is set for Feb. 27.

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