Mary­land, Vir­ginia move to trim Bay crab har­vest

Record Observer - - News - By RONA KOBELL

Crab­bers in Mary­land and Vir­ginia face new har vest re­stric­tions, a move that man­agers in both states have said is nec­es­sary be­cause of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s low pop­u­la­tion of ju­ve­nile crus­taceans.

Mary­land’s Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources an­nounced June 27 that the com­mer­cial crab sea­son will close Nov. 20, 10 days ear­lier than it did last year. The state’s crab­bers also face a cut­back in the num­ber of adult fe­male crabs they can har­vest. Those who fish 300 pots will be able to keep five bushels of fe­males, as op­posed to nine last year; those with a 600-pot li­cense can keep 10, as op­posed to 13 last year; and those with a 900-pot li­cense can keep 15, as op­posed to 30 last year.

The Vir­ginia Marine Re­sources Com­mis­sion voted June 27 to close its crabbing sea­son Nov. 30 — 20 days ear­lier than last year. Vir­ginia also in­sti­tuted re­duced bushel lim­its for its li­cense hold­ers for all of Novem­ber. It will open its 2018 spring sea­son March 17, in­stead of March 1.

VMRC board chair­man John M.R. Bull called the com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion “pru­dent man­age­ment of this species” and said the crab­bers rec­og­nized they were tak­ing a nec­es­sary step.

“Crab man­age­ment is­sues are al­ways dif­fi­cult, but we’ve seen tremen­dous im­prove­ments in the species over the past seven or eight years,” he said. “We have the largest num­ber of adult fe­male crabs. We have to pro­tect the ju­ve­niles, though. This year’s ba­bies are next year’s ma­mas.”

The har­vest cuts come after the lat­est win­ter dredge sur­vey re­sults, re­leased in April, showed the high­est num­ber of fe­male crabs in the 28-year his­tory of the an­nual count. The tally for fe­males was 254 mil­lion, a 31 per­cent in­crease over last year.

But the Bay­wide sur­vey, which counts the crabs in more than 1,000 lo­ca­tions as they bur­row in the mud, showed a marked de­crease in young crabs. It es­ti­mated that there were 125 mil­lion ju­ve­niles in the Ch­e­sa­peake — a 54 per­cent de­crease from the 271 mil­lion found in 2016. That is the low­est tally since 2013 (a year when crab­bers also had their catch cur­tailed) and one of the five low­est es­ti­mates since 1990, man­agers said.

Catches of the Ch­e­sa­peake’s most valu­able seafood are be­ing cur­tailed later in the year in an ef­fort to pro­tect the smaller pop­u­la­tion of ju­ve­nile crabs as they reach mar­ket size, so that they will be around to re­pro­duce next year.

Mary­land DNR’s Blue Crab In­dus­try Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee and Tidal Fish­eries Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion ap­proved the cuts in votes, DNR of­fi­cials said. The DNR’s an­nounce­ment came a day after the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Stock As­sess­ment Com­mit­tee, made up of fed­eral and state fish­eries of­fi­cials, warned both states to take a “cau­tious, risk-averse ap­proach” to man­ag­ing blue crabs.

Billy Rice, chair­man of the DNR Tidal Fish­eries Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion and a South­ern Mary­land crab­ber, said the depart­ment was do­ing just that with this de­ci­sion.

“We’re tak­ing a con­ser­va­tive ap­proach. We’re not go­ing whole hog. We tried to make the changes as lib­eral as pos­si­ble, but we felt there had had to be a re­sponse,” he said. Other op­tions in­cluded a shorter sea­son and less of a bushel cut; Rice said it’s bet­ter for the pop­u­la­tion and the mar­kets to have a longer sea­son with a higher bushel limit.


A bushel of Chester River crabs sits ready to be picked June 30 at Chester River Seafood Co. The Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources has short­ened this year’s com­mer­cial crab sea­son by 10 days to Nov 20.

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