States plan committee with aim to coordinate crabbing restrictions Maryland, Virginia seek improved collaboration

January 05, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Amid continuing concern over blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, a tri-state commission launched an effort yesterday aimed at better coordinating crabbing restrictions in Maryland and Virginia.

The Chesapeake Bay Commission, meeting in Annapolis, agreed to form a standing committee of legislators, watermen and recreational crabbers from the two states.

The panel -- its size and makeup are to be determined -- would recommend research and catch limits to both states.

"We have a unique opportunity here to collaborate and come out with some common regulatory measures," said John R. Griffin, Maryland's natural resources secretary and a commission member.

The bay commission is an advisory group of appointed and elected officials and other citizens from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia that recommends government actions to restore the Chesapeake.

Though blue crabs use the entire bay to grow and reproduce, Maryland and Virginia have independently regulated commercial and recreational crabbing.

However, prompted by poor crab catches last year, the bay commission arranged meetings among officials, scientists, watermen and other citizens from the two states to discuss the reasons for the decline and look at possible conservation measures.

The group met in Annapolis yesterday, its third gathering since September.

Watermen frequently complain about differences in crabbing restrictions in the neighboring state. Now, in response to the apparent decline in the bay's crab population, Maryland and Virginia appear to be moving closer to adopting similar limits on such criteria as the minimum size of crabs that can be caught.

To conserve female crabs, Maryland imposed emergency restrictions last fall on commercial and recreational crabbing. Days and hours for crabbing were curtailed. The state intends to adopt new, probably less severe catch limits before this year's season begins April 1.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates fishing in that state, has scheduled public hearings this month on a variety of crabbing limits proposed by regulators, scientists and seafood industry representatives.

"We need to sustain that effort and lock it into place," said Mr. Griffin. He credited Dr. L. Eugene Cronin, a longtime Maryland crab researcher, with inspiring creation of the bi-state panel.

Dr. Cronin, former director of the University of Maryland's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, said he originally proposed a more formal bi-state body, with authority to adopt crabbing regulations covering the whole bay.

Though this committee would simply recommend action to the two states, Dr. Cronin called it a "step in the right direction. How far they go is up to them."

Said Robert S. Bloxom, a delegate from Virginia: "It doesn't mean there will always be the very same regulations adopted, but at least there will be study of how we can coordinate management in the two states."

William Goldsborough, fisheries scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said a permanent bi-state panel on crabs will help avoid misunderstandings between the states.

Larry W. Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said, "If we don't work together as two states, then we'll just be counterproductive."

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