Maryland Independent - - Sports -

2014 con­trib­uted to alarm­ingly low crab pop­u­la­tions those years. The in­crease of crabs this year is di­rectly linked to a milder win­ter. But who knows what 2017 will bring?

Crabs live a fast and hard life and the pop­u­la­tion is af­fected by a myr­iad of fac­tors — wind, cur­rent, tem­per­a­ture, and weather — and one dif­fi­cult year could send those num­bers plum­met­ing again. The bay is choked by

pol­lu­tion and the grasses needed by ju­ve­niles for pro­tec­tion from preda­tors are nonex­is­tent in many places. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to pile on ad­di­tional stress like in­creas­ing bushel lim­its when just three years ago the fe­male pop­u­la­tion was alarm­ingly low.

Also trou­bling, the den­sity of ju­ve­nile crabs un­der 2.4 inches de­creased, from 30.72 per meter squared in 2015 to 27.79 in 2016. Th­ese tiny crabs are go­ing to keep grow­ing this sea­son and, if all goes right, be­come the back­bone of the com­mer­cial fishery,

but the life of a crab is un­pre­dictable. Ju­ve­nile crabs molt sev­eral times be­fore they reach adult size, and molt­ing is risky busi­ness. Not all th­ese tiny crabs are go­ing to make it.

Th­ese new num­bers should be ap­proached with cau­tious op­ti­mism. We are rid­ing a high this year, but we had sim­i­larly pos­i­tive re­sults from the sur­vey in 2012 and the num­bers dropped dras­ti­cally the next two years. It’s like the brink of dis­as­ter has be­come the sta­tus quo.

Lots of us prob­a­bly have mem­o­ries of crab­bing be­fore the

near col­lapse of the pop­u­la­tion about 15 years ago. My child­hood home was not too far from Chap­tico Wharf, which was our fam­ily’s fa­vorite des­ti­na­tion for crab­bing. It was usu­ally my job to net the big ones off the pil­ings, while my dad worked the chicken necks, which re­quired a bit more fi­nesse than my 7-year-old en­thu­si­asm could usu­ally de­liver.

Nowa­days, in the sum­mer­time, I can’t help but in­spect ev­ery sin­gle pil­ing on a pier for crabs. It’s pure in­stinct. I haven’t seen a big crab dan­gling on one in a long time. And a “dou­bler” (a

mat­ing pair) would be a rare sight in­deed.

DNR of­fi­cials have al­ready hinted at a slight loos­en­ing of har­vest lim­its for 2016, and it’s go­ing to be hard to un­ring that bell, but we need as many spawn­ing fe­males as pos­si­ble to keep replenishing the stock. It just doesn’t make sense to in­crease lim­its, and re­ally it would be even bet­ter to re­strict their har­vest dur­ing peak re­pro­duc­tive months.

Let’s pro­tect th­ese beau­ti­ful swim­mers.

jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look. com

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