Holy Crustacean, Save 'Em

October 04, 1990

The blue crab is the healthiest specimen of marine life in the Chesapeake Bay. Yet its prospects stir a good deal of fear. Despite a sizable crab harvest and reasonable profits made by watermen this summer, all is not well in Tidewater Maryland. Too many recreational crabbers are dropping lines and pots, competing for the limited summer harvests and forcing commercial fishermen to work twice as hard to earn a reasonable living.

State fisheries managers should waste little time making tough choices. Unless crab yields climb higher than the 50 million pounds caught each year, officials eventually may have to consider dividing, or even limiting, the privilege of crabbing between professionals and do-it-yourselfers.

Without tighter management practices, or an unexpected boost from Mother Nature, the famed Maryland crustacean could become all but extinct at specialty houses on summer evenings.

The Department of Natural Resources says it will track the crab harvest. Officials are particularly interested in how many of the crabs wind up in recreational pots. In addition, there is the problem of protecting the private crab pots that are all too often cut by careless boaters or raided by petty thieves.

Natural resources officials will face political fire for any action they take. At stake is not only the satisfaction of millions of crab fanciers, but a $400 million industry that includes fishermen, packing house workers, distributors and marketers.

Before the blue crab joins the shad, rockfish and oyster as endangered Chesapeake Bay species, the Department of Natural Resources needs to come up with a plan of action to preserve the bay's crab stock. Or, as one veteran Baltimorean who still feasts on this delicacy at a Pratt Street crab house likes to say, "Do it now."

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