Md. proposes revised rules on crabbing Limits would apply to recreational, commercial catches

'Chicken-neckers' exempt

Watermen president sees restrictions as acceptable course

March 07, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

State officials unveiled new restrictions on commercial and recreational crabbing yesterday, but eased the impact of the rules by exempting waterfront property owners and "chicken-neckers," or casual crabbers.

The proposed regulations include limiting commercial and recreational crabbing to six days a week and shortening the season by a month in the fall. They are slated to take effect June 17, after the April 1 beginning of crabbing season but before the summer's peak catches.

The restrictions proposed yesterday are similar but milder than emergency catch limits adopted last fall, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he was acting to avert a "crisis brewing" with the Chesapeake Bay's most valuable resource. Those cutbacks angered watermen and recreational crabbers. Recreational crabbers use crab pots and trotlines, but they crab for fun or personal consumption and are not allowed to sell their catch.

Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin said at a news conference yesterday in Annapolis that the rules represent a "common-sense" attempt to conserve the resource while easing the hardship on the seafood industry and the public.

A recent federal study has concluded that the bay's crabs are plentiful and not overfished, but Mr. Griffin noted that the study is controversial among scientists, some of whom contend that the crab population shows signs of trouble.

"A little belt-tightening now is better than catastrophe later," Mr. Griffin said.

Except for the exemptions, these limits hew closely to recommendations made last month by a group of watermen and seafood industry representatives.

The governor insisted on exempting casual crabbers and property owners, Mr. Griffin said. Mr. Glendening is a self-professed "chicken-necker" who has said he enjoys crabbing occasionally with his son, Raymond. "Chicken-necker" refers to the use of a chicken neck as bait when crabbing with a hand line and dip net.

"He felt pretty strongly that's part of the Maryland tradition -- going out with a son or daughter and spending a quiet day catching crabs," Mr. Griffin said.

Under the proposal, commercial and recreational crabbers would be required to take one day off a week. The rules say watermen must choose either Sunday or Tuesday, while recreational crabbing would be barred Wednesdays. Mr. Griffin said that the final rules may designate other weekdays off, depending on comments received at six public hearings.

Crabbing season, which normally runs until Dec. 31, would end Nov. 30 under the proposal.

The rules also would:

Require watermen to put cull rings, or openings, in crab pots and to use larger mesh on their chicken-wire pots so more undersized crabs can escape.

Regulate the importation of pregnant "sponge" crabs.

Watermen and crab processors said the new rules were acceptable, even though state officials estimated that the restrictions could reduce the catch could be reduced by 15 percent to 17 percent.

"It's a loss to the industry, but we look at it as a conservative step to be sure we have a resource in the future," said Larry W. Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.

Last year's catch, when fall crabbing was restricted, was 40 million pounds, worth of crab meat, about 10 percent below average for the past decade.

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