That 5-ton haul was just the tip of the iceberg. This has been going on since the mid 1950s, a time when Maryland decided to place restrictions on harvesting striped bass. I have photos of striped bass entangled in illegal nets that were found in the middle Potomac River, off Bloody Point Light, the deep waters near Hooper Island and the hole near the mouth of the Choptank River. All of these locations were traditional winter fishing grounds for commercial watermen prior to outlawing anchored gill nets. The reason these places were popular is because during the winter months, especially late December and throughout January and part of February, big, migrating, cow striped bass forage in these deep pockets for what little food remains in the Chesapeake during the dead of winter. By the end of February these fish are on the move toward their natal rivers to spawn. They'll usually arrive in the rivers sometime in late February and remain until spawning is complete, which can be as late as mid to late May. Spawning usually takes place when water temperatures reach approximately 53 degrees, however, the most successful spawning usually occurs when water temperatures are a bit higher, often as high as 65 to 70 degrees.
As for the nets being tended--they're NOT! When director of DNR fisheries service Pete Jensen was in office he helped push a law through the Maryland General Assembly that allowed watermen to stray as far as 2 miles from the nets and still considered them to be tended. Essentially, the nets are put in place then the boat heads back to the warmth an comfort of the marina, or home, to await the next tidal change, which is when the best catches are traditionally made. When the tide slacks, they hop in their boats and return to the area to retrieve the nets and the day's catch.
As for the nets being anchored, that part is illegal, however, for each box of net, weights can be added to the bottom of the net to keep it stretched out. If I recall correctly, the weight amounted to 16-pounds at each end of a box of net, which translates to about 32 pounds for each stretch. This was more than enough to hold the net into the tide, thereby making it much more deadly to ANY fish that came in contact with the net.
When Jensen was in office he found a way to skirt the ban of outlawed, monofilament gill nets as well. A Korean company was manufacturing a multi-strand, monofilament gill net, mainly for use in foreign waters where monofilament net was legal. This particular type of net is nearly invisible to th fish, and quite lethal. When the fish enters the gill net the netting catches behind the fish's gills, thereby making it impossible for it to back out. As the fish struggles, the monofilament slices through the gill rakers, thus causing the fish to hemorrhage and quickly die. Because the fish is bled out, spoilage is reduced by a significant margin, thereby allowing watermen to leave the nets unattended for extended periods and still retain relatively high quality in the catch. When water temperatures are close to freezing, which in this particular area of the Chesapeake is about 30 degrees f, those dead fish will last in that anchored gill net for nearly a week before spoilage takes place. And, because the water is very cold, it takes much longer for the fish to die--even after loosing most of its blood volume.
Food for thought,