Crabbers vs. Boaters: Round 2

August 12, 1991

A couple years older and deeper in debt, so they claim, Baltimore County's commercial crabbers are lobbying again for the right to work waters off northern Anne Arundel County. But pleasure boaters there, stung in the late '80s by what might be called Round 1 in this War Between the Crabbers and Boaters, are ever-alert.

Round 2 begins as a paper and phone-call skirmish. Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden, Second District Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, state senators from both counties and other legislators, and the state Department of Natural Resources are involved. Boaters won Round 1, which faded out in a 1988 compromise Gov. William Donald Schaefer imposed, giving crabbers two years to leave waters they still see as irresistibly accessible and bountiful. Now, for Round 2:

* Commercial crabbers like the efficiency of catching crabs with pots -- cage-like, chicken-wire traps that rest on the bottom. Dozens and sometimes hundreds of individual locations are marked by floats attached to lines.

* Crabbers can set pots only in the bay, not its tributaries. Round 1 saw crabbers granted an exception to state regulation, allowing them to set pots in the Patapsco River's expansive mouth off Pasadena. An aside: The Baltimore County Watermen's Association and state officials disagree on where the bay ends and Patapsco starts.

* Baltimore County has more licensed commercial crabbers than any other Chesapeake Bay county. Most are part-timers, but their numbers would indicate no lack of crabs close to home.

* Still, Baltimore County crabbers contend they deserve more water to work because 2,500 acres of once-productive bottom ** around Hart-Miller Island now lie beneath millions of cubic yards of dredge spoil from Baltimore's shipping channels. They covet the nearby, productive waters between Anne Arundel County's Bodkin Creek and Rock Point -- an area with many pleasure boaters.

* Pleasure boaters hate commercial crab pots. The vertical lines tying the pots to their markers are always present and difficult to avoid en masse, the way crabbers usually set them. That can lead to line-snarled propellers, which can mean troublesome, costly engine damage.

Baltimore County crabbers, their supporters say, are willing to compromise up-front in exchange for renewed rights to work off Pasadena. But Anne Arundel legislators are saying no compromise is possible, given Round 1's nasty animosities, which began as a Hart-Miller concession and dragged on for months. The Department of Natural Resources says it will consider revising its stand only if the two county legislative delegations can agree on terms for re-opening the waters.

Little in this war seems to have changed since Round 1. We think Anne Arundel County's position still serves the greater public interest.


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