Maryland officials, watermen praise new Va. crabbing limits But fishermen here warn against more restrictions

January 25, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Maryland officials, watermen and environmentalists joined yesterday in praising new restrictions adopted by Virginia to protect Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, but promptly broke ranks over whether Maryland should impose major new limits on this state's harvest.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening issued a statement hailing Virginia Gov. George F. Allen and the state's Marine Resources Commission "for working with us to preserve this precious natural resource."

The Virginia commission voted Tuesday night to freeze the number of commercial crabbing licenses and ban the catch of small, young "soft crabs" and of pregnant females about to spawn. It also limited the number of pots, or traps, Virginia watermen may use to catch crabs.

Most of those measures match restrictions in effect in Maryland.

William J. Goldsborough, fisheries scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Virginia's limit on licenses is a major step toward reducing the risk of depleting the bay's most valuable resource, which is worth $98 million a year in Maryland and $83 million in Virginia.

Larry W. Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said Virginia's actions should "save a lot of crabs," especially its ban on the harvest of pregnant females with dark egg sacks. Such "sponge" crabs are within a week or two of spawning.

But the Marylanders differed over Virginia's crab pot limits, which are more stringent than Maryland's restrictions.

The Virginia commission set a limit of 500 pots per boat in the bay and 300 pots per boat in the rivers. Maryland's watermen are limited to 300 pots per person, up to 900 pots per boat.

John R. Griffin, Maryland's natural resources secretary who attended the Virginia meeting, said he would seek to reduce the Maryland crab pot limits closer to those of its neighbor. "I told Virginia we would pursue it and try to come somewhere close to where they end up," Mr. Griffin said.

The DNR intends to propose new restrictions next month for the crabbing season starting April 1. Other limits likely to be sought include requiring watermen to take off one day a week, as they were forced to do last fall under emergency regulations adopted by the state.

But the watermen's association chief threatened "a bloodbath" if the state seeks to reduce the number of pots that can be fished. He said more than 400 of Maryland's 2,500 licensed crabbers would be hurt by such a move, while very few of Virginia's 2,000 watermen would have to cut back to meet that state's pot limit.

"You're taking the best people, the hardest-working people and you're going to cut into them," said Mr. Simns.

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