The bounty of the Chesapeake Bay is one of the treasures of the State of Maryland, including its seafood such as crabs and oysters. In the 19th century, the bay was most famous for its oysters, and the state has regulated oyster harvesting since then. How the law enforces those regulations was explored in a reported opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court this week in a case called George Hayden v. Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The opinion indicates that Hayden was challenging a decision from an Administrative Law Judge after a hearing that resulted in the permanent loss of his ability to harvest oysters in the tidal waters of the state. Hayden had obtained as required a license to fish, paid the assessment to harvest oysters and signed off that he had received documents including maps from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) showing areas where the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) had determined were closed to oyster harvesting because of pollution. MDE makes such determinations since pollution makes consumption of shellfish from such areas unsafe.
One day, a DNR officer observed Hayden harvesting oysters from a tributary of the bay, in an area near where his parents owned land. It turned out that this was an area closed to oyster harvesting, and the officer issued citations for violating those regulations. Hayden’s only defense was that he did not know he was violating the law at the time.
The Court agreed that there was substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s finding that Hayden “willfully disregarded and failed to the learn the laws and requirements of oyster harvesting.” He had been a waterman for over 20 years, and by signing a receipt for the MDE maps he was deemed to have knowledge imputed to him that those areas were closed for taking oysters. He also had a conversation with an MDE employee which showed he was aware that this location was closed due to pollution. Therefore, because he deliberately ignored the information available when he decided to harvest in that location, the ruling forfeiting his license was upheld.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.