Vol. 9, No. 18
May 3-9, 2001
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Don’t Get Crabby About New Rules

How does $45 a dozen grab you?

That's blue crabs, not a dozen baseballs or a trunk full of new rose bushes.

And by the way, that would be Louisiana crabs, which a lot of crab houses (particularly in D.C.) are selling this time of year.

The cost of crabs this spring is only one reason why we think Gov. Parris Glendening acted wisely, and modestly, when he imposed new restrictions on the harvest of crabs. He said he would close the season a month early, in early November, and limit the hours of crabbers beginning July 23.

Glendening did what a legislative panel had refused just a few days before. A committee with a name as wide as a No. 1 Jimmy had voted down the restrictions after a coalition of watermen and seafood packers from the Eastern Shore argued that they would suffer.

For a brief period, we felt as though someone had shaken the Bay upside down. Virginia, long the exploiter of resources, had voted last week to restrict its crabbers with selected closings this summer and cutbacks in the winter dredge industry. And Maryland, known internationally for its rockfish rehabilitation and pro-Bay efforts, suddenly had become timid.

It was hard to know what the governor was thinking. He is known for his preservation instincts. He was, for example, just awarded a B+ by Maryland League of Conservation Voters on their 1998-2001 Environmental Report Card. But he had puzzled many observers last month with his inexplicable firings of respected officials in the Department of Natural Resources. Thankfully, Glendening regained his balance in time to issue the emergency crab restrictions, which we hope aren't too little too late.

Critics of fishery limits and regulations in general decry the absence of "sound science" behind new rules. Well, there are plenty of scientists issuing warnings about the potential collapse of Chesapeake Bay crabs. A committee of more than two dozen scientists had recommend that the harvest be trimmed by 15 percent over three years; hence the 5.5 percent in Glendening's plan.

What's happening to our crabs is debated. Are too many being caught in pots? Are they disappearing in the mouths of our bounty of hungry rockfish? Is there too much nitrogen pollution from poultry farms and artificially green lawns choking Bay grass and therefore destroying crab cover? Is it just cyclical, as some of the old pros insist?

A trade group calling itself the Blue Crab Conservation Coalition persists in arguing that restrictions aren't needed. As residents in a Bay crabbing village, we understand the group's short-term fears. But we must remember that crabs are more than a way to make money this season.

The blue crab is part of Maryland's heritage. Our recreation. Our culture. New restrictions, we hope, can help to assure that they are part of our future, too.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly