Tougher crab harvest restrictions implemented
by Larry Chowning
Virginia and Maryland regulatory agencies recently implemented 10% reduction quotas for the commercial harvest of female crabs (sooks) throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials announced in May, 2013 that it was lowering the daily allowable catch of female crabs, while the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) implemented its “first ever” year-round daily catch limits in November 2012.
What prompted the conservation efforts were the results of the 2012 bi-state winter dredge survey, which showed that the bay’s overall crab population had declined by nearly two-thirds over the previous year, to around 300 million, with juvenile crabs plummeting 80%. This came after the 2011 survey showed a 60% increase in juvenile crabs over 2010 and the highest crab population since 1997.
In 2012, for the first time, Middlesex crabbers were allowed to work their pots to December 15.
However, in November, 2012, VMRC implemented year-around daily bushel limits on local crabbers for the 2013 season and “rolled back” the closing of the 2013 fall crab season to the historic date of mid-November. “We think these efforts will constrain the catch and will also be close to a 10% reduction in the female catch,” said VMRC spokesperson John Bull.
“There is an increasing awareness that the days of the wild west are over and that significant limits must be placed and enforced to ensure that the crabs are there for the full-time harvester,” said Bull.
Walton said the recent basket limit is just the latest restriction on watermen. The worst was when they started restricting licenses. “It used to be you got a license and you could work any amount of pots. Then they broke it down to numbers of pots—100, 300 and 600-pot licenses. We had two 100-pot licenses and then VMRC reduced everything by 30%, which meant we had two 85-pot licenses. It’s hard for three people to make a living off 170 crab pots.
“Thank goodness for peelers (shedding crabs) and oysters!” Walton said. “If we didn’t have them, it would not be worth it.”
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