Aquaculture: Scales of Justice

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, August 1995

Aquaculture: Scales of Justice
By Karen Wright

"Fishermen think we can track these bass out of aircraft," says Bob Lunsford, a Maryland state biologist, "and frankly, we don't tell them any different." Lunsford is talking about 3,000 wild black bass that state biologists injected with tiny computer-coded tags a few years ago for a population study. The study is done, but the computer-scannable bass live on. And next month, if all goes well in a federal district court in Maryland, they'll figure prominently in a major poaching conviction.

It all started two years ago, when a Canadian conservation officer intercepted 3,000 pounds of live black bass en route to Toronto from Maryland. It's illegal to sell wild black bass, and the keen-eyed border officer thought the fish looked too plump to be farm-pond denizens. Maryland authorities soon showed up at the ponds of Dennis Woodruff, whose name was on the shipping permits. Stunned with an electrical shock, the bass bellied to the surface, where a scanner revealed--surprise--dozens of the tagged fish.

If found guilty, Woodruff and three alleged co-rustlers could be sentenced to jail, huge fines, and scorn from fair-play bassers. "It's like eating your dog," says one angler of those who would eat poached bass. "Of course, bass are good eating, no matter where you find them."

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