DNR hear­ing to con­sider adding six hours to crab sea­son

Mean­while, state cuts har­vest sea­son by 10 days

Maryland Independent - - News - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com Twitter: @Dan­danEn­tNews

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.”

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