|Time is now to step up for crabs
Hang in there blue crabs, help is on the way. After several years of record low crab harvests, Maryland's General Assembly is considering measures to help stabilize Chesapeake Bay's most valuable fishery. The measures, part of a broader strategy to increase stocks, are based in large part on recommendations from the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee. Last fall, the committee confirmed what many untrained fisheries observers, including this writer, feared - that the world's second largest crab fishery is over exploited. Maryland and Virginia have agreed to a plan to double the size of the Bay's blue crab spawning stock by cutting their harvests 15 percent over the next three years.
Last week, State Senator Brian E. Frosh and State Delegate John F. Wood Jr. made the first move by introducing companion bills that would require every person 16 years and older who wants to crab (traps, trotlines, and hand lines) to buy a state license, including the waterfront property owners who tie crab pots to their piers.
The proposed regulations will limit the thousands of sport crabbers' daily catch to one bushel per boat, far fewer than the current creel of three bushels per boat per day for licensed crabbers. But that is fine with me because something has to give.
In the past decade, Maryland's population has increased by almost 11 percent; Virginia by 14.4 percent; and Delaware by 17.6 percent. One would assume that the pressure on crabs from the recreational sector has increased exponentially, but since there is no mechanism to track this, the impact of the recreational fishery is unknown.
Under the proposed law, recreational crabbers would pay $5 for a license or $2 if they already have a tidal fishing license. The monies would help resource managers track the number of sport crabbers and the quantity they take. For years, there have been anecdotal reports of unlicensed crabbers selling their catch on the roadside and complaints that some recreational crabbers limit out, take their catch ashore and then go back onto the water to fill up the bushel baskets again. Certainly, these scofflaws are the exception, but nonetheless, recreational users must take a healthy bite out of the conservation apple.
Commercial crabbers will also take a hit in their allotment. The DNR is set to issue regulations that, according to reports, would shorten their workday and establish a uniform day off each week.
"We support the licensing proposals," said Sherman Baynard, chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland. "The fees are reasonable, will help fund important studies and give recreational users a credible stake in the fishery management process."
Some recreational users and legislators, however, may question the reasonableness of licensing the waterfront property owner who throws a pot off his pier or the boater who drops a line with a chicken neck off the stern. But how else do you determine who is taking from the fishery? With the future health of crabs at risk, the stakes are too high not to count every user.
Clearly, the regulating initiatives alone are not a panacea for what ails the flagging crab population, but they do represent a good step. Vital crab habitat, mainly underwater grasses, remains woefully lacking due in large part to degraded water quality caused by nutrient pollution and sediment runoff. The state needs to authorize increased spending to bring back habitat and to reduce pollution. The crab, an enduring symbol of the Bay, is too important a resource to let slip away because of a few dollars.
Got an opinion on mute swans? Send your written comments to: Mute Swan Management Plan, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 580 Taylor Ave., E-1, Annapolis, MD 21401 or via fax at 410-260-8595. Or e-mail DNR's Web site at www.dnr.state.md.us.