Maryland, Virginia move to trim Bay crab harvest
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.