'Reasonable' fishery for crabbers goal of changes

On the Outdoors

March 21, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

The Department of Natural Resources opened a series of public meetings on proposed changes in blue crab regulations here Tuesday night, proposals that were met with mixed opinions from about three dozen recreational and commercial crabbers.

Dave Blazer, assistant to the director of DNR's Tidal Fisheries Division, opened the meeting at Annapolis High School by saying DNR wants feedback from the public so that the proposed regulations can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the user groups.

The goals of the proposals, Blazer said, are to allow a "reasonable" fishery for all crabbers, to be conservative in the size of the crab harvest and to ensure that Maryland and Virginia regulations on crabbing work in concert for the benefit of the fisheries.

"These proposals are not set in stone," Blazer said. "We can modify these proposals somewhat."

The proposals, a form of which will take effect on June 17, call for a six-day week for most recreational crabbers and all commercial crabbers. Recreational crabbers who set two pots from waterfront property they own would be exempt, as would casual crabbers who use dipnets or hand lines.

All crabbers face an abbreviation of the season from Dec. 31 to Nov. 30 or the option of fishing all seven days and closing the season Oct. 11.

All crab pots peeler and hard crab gear included would require cull rings. Minimum wire mesh size would be increased from 1 inch to 1.5 inches in hard crab pots.

The proposals also ban the importation of sponge crabs taken illegally in other states.

Recreational and commercial interests voiced almost unanimous support for increased conservation of crab stocks but also questioned the basis for the proposed changes and what effect they will have on the fishery.

For example, several commercial crabbers said the inclusion of cull rings, which in theory allow undersized crabs to leave a pot, could have an adverse effect.

"When a peeler goes into a pot, he is going in to hide," said Terry Conway, a representative of the John Handy Company, a Crisfield packing house specializing in soft crabs. "He is not thinking about getting out. But an eel [which preys on peelers] knows his way in and out."

Conway said hungry eels could "waste" as much as 20 percent of the peeler harvest. Conway also noted that leaving peeler pots unfished for one day each week would contribute to further "waste" of the resource.

Other commercial crabbers said that the new, two- and five-sixteenth inch cull rings would allow some legal-sized hard crabs to escape as well.

Harley Speir of Tidal Fisheries said, "It is true that crabs come in different shapes and [the new cull ring] does let out five-inch crabs. But at that size you will lose fewer legal crabs and it should keep most five-inch crabs in the pot."

Bob Evans, president of the Anne Arundel County Waterman's Association and a member of the state's Blue Crab Steering Committee, said his group of watermen supports conservation but questions some of DNR's methods.

"The buck stops here," Evans said. "We have come up with a package that will work. But we cannot handle any more regulations. . . . If more come up, the commercials are going to revolt."

Evans and his group asked DNR to consider a Dec. 15 closure rather than Nov. 30, which would allow the fishing of the large males that remain in the upper bay after the females have migrated south for the winter. Evans said his group is adamantly against the seven-day plan that would close the season on Oct. 11.

George Klein Jr., representing 70 Calvert County watermen, also advocated a Dec. 15 closure and rejected the seven-day plan.

r long-term averages.

The question is: Which assessment is correct, and how much regulation is needed.

"The NOAA study is being looked at by a number of scientists up and down the coast," said Speir. "There are a number of novel approaches in it and we want to ensure it was done right and we want to take the cautious approach to management."

Speir said the proposed closure of the recreational season on Wednesdays would reduce the number of crabbing trips by 10 percent. The one-day-a-week closure of the commercial season will have an "unknown advantage."

However, Speir said, a study last fall showed that pots tended every other day rather than daily showed a 3 percent difference in catch.

Harry T. Phoebus Jr., Crisfield city manager, said packing house workers are "totally dependent on the number of crabs that come across the docks" and will lose income as a result of shorter weeks and a shorter season.

Conway estimated that 10,000 pickers, 6,000 crabbers and their families some 83,000 people in all will be affected adversely by the proposed regulations.

The meeting Tuesday night was the first of public meetings scheduled across the state. The next meeting is tonight at 7 p.m. at Essex Community College, 7201 Rossville Blvd.

Other meetings set for 7 p.m. will be held: Tomorrow Carter State Office Building, Washington Street, Leonardtown.

Monday Wicomico Public Library, 122 S. Division Street, Salisbury.

Wednesday Easton National Guard Armory, Route 50, Easton.

March 28 Crisfield High School, 210 North Somerset Avenue, Crisfield.

A final hearing on proposed regulations will be held April 30.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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