Crab regulations omit conservation measures


April 17, 1994|By GARY DIAMOND

Less than a month ago, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources announced sweeping changes in regulations for recreational and commercial crabbers.

It was obvious to many that some of the proposals would not benefit Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population. Ironically, the main reason the regulations were changed was to stem the species decline.

The regulations required recreational crabbers to be licensed by either purchasing a $10 recreational crabbing license ($20 for non-residents) or a regular Chesapeake Bay Sport Fishing License.

With the license, crabbers could use 10 collapsible traps or ring nets, or up to 1,000 feet of trotline. Previously, unlicensed crabbers could only use five traps or rings and up to 500 feet of trotline, while licensed crabbers, those holding the $10 license, could use up to 50 traps or rings.

Under the DNR's regulations, the $10 license wasn't beneficial because the new limits would be applied equally to all recreational crabbers. Therefore, it would be foolish to purchase a $10 crabbing license when the $7 Chesapeake Bay Sportfishing License provides identical privileges for crabbers and has the added bonus of allowing the holder to fish for finfish.

Although regulations increasing the number of traps and rings, and lengthening trotlines went into effect, Maryland's legislators didn't pass the licensing bill. Consequently, recreational crabbers can now legally crab with twice as much equipment without purchasing a license. If this is a conservation move, we're in real trouble.

If you purchased a $10 recreational crabbing license and want a refund Samina Cole, director of the DNR's Licensing Division, said do the following: Return the license to one of the regional offices, along with a letter requesting a refund.

But don't expect to get your refund soon. Cole said after submitting the license and letter, it could take from four to six weeks before you receive a check. If you purchased a Chesapeake Bay Sportfishing License just for the purpose of going crabbing, there will be no refund.

If you think crabbing is complicated, this spring's striped bass (rockfish) season won't be a picnic either. Anglers must purchase a bay fishing license and a $2 striped bass stamp. The season runs throughout the month of May, during which anglers can catch one rockfish measuring 34 inches or larger daily, but no more than a total of three during the season.

Additionally, fishing is only allowed in the bay proper, between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at Annapolis and the Virginia state line. Areas north of the Bay Bridge and all tributaries are closed to striped bass fishing during this period.

You can use most artificial lures to catch rockfish during the spring season. However, there are exceptions. Only a single lure can be used on a single line. For example, umbrella rigs, which consists of a dozen small surgical hose eels rigged on spokes, are illegal, despite the fact it's considered by the manufacturer as a single lure.

You can use treble hooks, but they must, according to Maryland's Annotated Code, "be an intrinsic part of a floating lure." Consequently, lures such as treble hooked spinners, spinnerbaits and surface plugs made of high-impact plastic would be illegal because they sink.

If you want to fish for stripers with live bait, it's not a problem. In fact, you can even chum for them. However, whole eels, live or dead, are strictly prohibited. If the eel is cut in chunks, it can be used legally as a form of cut bait. Bloodworms, night crawlers, clam snouts, menhaden and chunks of crab are all legal striper baits during the May season.

Legal fishing hours are from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the use of gaffs is strictly prohibited during both the spring and fall striped bass seasons.

Landing nets can be used and the DNR strongly recommends using the new, soft rubber net to land legal-sized fish and to release undersized stripers without removing them from the RTC water. Hook disgorgers are available at most tackle shops that make this an easy task.

If you think striped-bass regulations are tough, bluefin tuna regs are far more complex. This is likely because the rules are made by a 22-member, international task force.

This year, recreational tuna anglers will need to get a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service before fishing for bluefins. There's no charge for the permit this year, but the service will begin charging a fee in 1995. Permit application forms are available by writing to: National Marine Fisheries Service, Permit Office, One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, Mass., 01930-2298.

Seasons, catch limits and size restrictions are now in place for: striped bass, bluefin tuna, weakfish, spotted sea trout, croaker, cobia, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, blue crab, largemouth bass, flounder, black drum, red drum and other game fish caught in saltwater. Consult fishing license guide books for specific information.

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