Recreational crabber may take pinch


January 16, 1994|By PETER BAKER

Last week the Department of Natural Resources issued news release to announce two public hearings on "the reproposal of the blue crab regulations" for unlicensed and licensed noncommercial crabbers.

And the first paragraph of the release brought great expectations, especially in its last sentence, which read:

"These changes are being reproposed based on significant public comment from hearings held by DNR in October proposing changes to Maryland's blue crab regulations."

The trouble is that the reproposals do not deal at all with the blue crab regulations that will most restrict the recreational crabber. The regulations could, in effect, limit many recreational crabbers to crabbing opportunities only on the weekends.

The blue crab had been in Maryland waters for millenniums before the European settlers came ashore here almost 400 years ago. In the relatively few years since, we -- commercial and

recreational crabbers alike -- have fished the blue crab down to a level that has fisheries managers concerned about the state of fishery.

If the blue crab harvest is unchecked, then there is the possibilitof a collapse. If there is a possibility of a collapse, then restrictive measures should be taken.

And if restrictive measures should be taken, then shouldn't those restrictions be directed toward where they might most benefit the crab?

Well, certainly not, or so it appears.

The reason is that crabbing is big business in Maryland, and with oysters, clams and rockfish fisheries gone bust, collapsing or already under severe restrictions, commercial watermen need the crab catch to stay in business.

The recreational crabber, without an effective lobby in the legislature or proper representation on a blue crab advisory board that has worked with DNR, needs only a reasonable chance to take his or her two bushels per day from a resource that, in effect, he or she owns.

In a democracy, the theory goes, the people are the state, the government and its agencies are but an extension of the will of the majority of the people.

An agency of the state, such as the DNR, has a mandate to protect and perpetuate the habitat and species within the state for the pleasures and purposes of all its residents.

But in this state, too often money talks and the rest of us walk.

Take a look at the state of the Canada goose. DNR proposes an 18-day hunting season to protect a goose population at a 30-year low, and legislative clout manages to almost double it, to the benefit of the commercial guides and outfitters.

Take a look at the fall rockfish season. The charterboat lobby and its representatives on advisory boards, saying they can't book parties and stay in business at one fish per day, obtain a two-fish-per-day limit from DNR. The recreational fisherman on the shoreline or a private boat fishes at a daily limit of one.

Take a look at the proposed blue crab regulations, and you will see that again the recreational user group will bear an unfair burden.

The changes in crab regulations mean, in part, that commerciacrabbers will have to alter their gear so that under-sized crabs may escape, limit their set of pots to 300, not set pots or trotlines within 100 feet of another pot or trotline and not fish trotlines between 5 p.m. and 3 a.m. or pots and some other types of gear from 5 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.

The recreational crabber on the other hand -- whether he or shis unlicensed or a licensed recreational crabber -- would be limited to 10 collapsible traps and/or net rings per person and a total of 25 per boat. Recreational trotliners also would be limited to 1,000 feet of baited line per person and 2,000 feet per boat.

Recreational crabbers also would be restricted to crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay between sunrise and 5 p.m. and in its tributaries sunrise to sunset.

So, when does the person who holds a day job make time to catch even a portion of his limit of crabs?

Even in June, July and August, when daylight lasts well into the evening, one would be hard pressed to punch out at work, get home and out onto a tributary in time to set out gear and catch and cull a bushel or two of crabs before sunset.

The person who wants to fish the bay proper has no chance unless he can get out before he goes to work.

That leaves the weekends, when everyone and his brother is on the water and crabbing from a small boat bobbing among the powerboat wakes and the fleets of racing sailboats can be hazardous.

For the recreational crabber, what once was a midsummer night's dream may become a nightmare.

Even though DNR says it will discuss only its reproposals at the upcoming public meetings, if you are a recreational crabber, take the time to stand up for your right to a proper share of the resource.

Contact your legislators. Contact the DNR. Call the governor's office. After all, he wouldn't hesitate to call you.

Take the time to attend one or both of the blue crab hearings and make yourself heard.

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