DNR hearing to consider adding six hours to crab season
Meanwhile, state cuts harvest season by 10 days
After shortening the crab season by 10 days, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is hosting a public hearing today, Wednesday, in Annapolis to implement small changes to crabbing hours on three holidays as a result of legislative actions.
State legislation passed this spring requires the department to allow commercial crabbers to harvest one hour earlier than the current rules permit on Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day, as well as the days before those three holidays.
That adds up to six more hours for the crabbing season. The proposed regulations apply to commercial crabbers using any type of legal gear.
The changes intend to help the industry meet the higher demand around the holidays, said Jacob Holtz, policy manager under DNR’s legislative and regulatory review division.
Once approved, commercial crabbers will be able to start harvesting one hour earlier than currently allowed on the three holidays and the day before each holiday, Holtz said.
Another regulation change came about a month ago when the department announced that the commercial season for female crabs will be cut by 10 days, ending on Nov. 20. Meanwhile, bushel levels for the month of November will also be reduced.
The department called the changes “modest but important” based on the winter survey that indicated a decrease of juvenile crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.
Although the April survey showed the population of female crabs reached a record high this year, the numbers of young and adult male crabs dropped, bringing the total crab population down when compared to last year.
According to the survey, the number of spawning female crabs jumped more than 30 percent to 254 million, surpassing the target level of 215 million for the first time since 2010.
However, the number of juvenile crabs dropped more than half, from 271 million in 2016 to 125 million this year, according to Gregg Bortz, DNR public information officer. The number of adult male crabs also took a dip from 91 to 76 million.
“Since the release of the winter dredge survey, experts have cautioned that a scarcity of juvenile crabs could result in more challenging harvest conditions later this year and next,” DNR Secretary Mark Belton said in a release in June.
“This decision is the result of partners in science and industry developing consensus to achieve what is best for the health and ongoing productivity of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery,” Belton said.
St. Mary’s waterman Craig Kelley said he was not surprised by DNR’s decision and he understood the reasonings behind it.
“We’ve been down this road before,” he said. “This is nothing new.”
But he said shortening harvesting days is like cutting hours to someone who makes a living by an hourly wage.
“We lose enough days as it is because of Mother Nature,” Kelley said. “No matter what they do, it hurts.”