Crab pot makers steamed over rule

The state now requires `turtle excluders' on traps, but few know what they are

April 25, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

A dozen crab pots are scattered around his front porch, photocopied regulations clutter his dining-room table, and Crab Pot Charlie is in a panic over turtles.

Charles Iampieri of Pasadena is trying to comply with a new Department of Natural Resources regulation that recreational crab traps like the ones he makes be fitted with turtle excluders.

The problem, he says, is that no one knows where to get turtle excluders or how to make them.

"It's 21 days into the [nine-month] season, I've called five tackle shops, and none of them had heard about it. The word is not out," said Iampieri, a retired firefighter who is one of the area's few private makers of crab pots.

Iampieri isn't the only manufacturer flummoxed by the new rule.

It caught some of the state's large crab pot manufacturers off guard, too. Owners of area tackle shops are complaining, and chicken-neckers everywhere are in a snit.

"DNR didn't send anything to the manufacturers, so we weren't prepared," said Margie Morgan, who runs Somers Crab Pots, a 50-year-old Crisfield business that turns out 100,000 pots a year. "Now, none of our customers can get them."

State oversight of crabbers who dangle pots off their backyard piers has for decades been limited to just one key rule -- they can hang no more than two in the water at once.

This month, though, DNR added the turtle-protection rule -- with little fanfare or resistance.

DNR officials said the turtle excluders can easily be made by twisting wire into a 1 3/4-by-4 1/2-inch rectangle, and stapling it into the trap opening where crabs enter. They recently sent out specific instructions to crab-pot makers, including Iampieri.

The excluder is supposed to keep diamondback terrapins, as well as otters, diving birds -- any animals other than crabs -- from getting trapped.

Marguerite Whilden, the DNR official who puts new policies into place, said no one knows exactly how many creatures die deaths meant for crabs. "But there was a story we've heard of a pot with over 40 terrapin in it," she said.

Crab pot anglers say they're not sure the turtle excluder is the right answer. Others simply don't like the idea of more rules.

"People are really upset," said Bud Hein, who owns Fishbones Bait and Tackle, a Lake Shore supplier. "They think they're being picked on."

But the biggest problem, as far as Iampieri can see, is that people don't know they need excluders and are liable to get a ticket if they're caught without one. He believes the DNR is acting like the IRS. "They don't come around that often, but if they catch you, they really sock it to you."

Whilden said crabbers shouldn't fret too much.

"My guess is that the first year, this will be more an educational focus," she said. "I have talked with our police, they said there would probably not be a lot of citations. And if we can get our hands on some of the excluders, we'll try and give them away."

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