More work to catch less

Crab Corner

July 15, 1999|By Mike Kobus | Mike Kobus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

So, where are the crabs, you ask? Pollutants, nutrient runoff and over-harvesting are affecting the beautiful swimmers, and it's taking me longer and I'm working harder to get them. No longer am I able to tie a chicken neck or fish head to a string, just toss it anywhere in the water and be guaranteed crabs, as when I was younger.

We started out extra early (3 a.m.) for our annual Fourth of July crabbing trip, but were dismayed when we found the ramp's parking lot overflowing, with a line of boats waiting to launch. Then, after finding our crabbing spot noticeably empty, we wondered if the lack of crabbers in the creek was a bad omen. Not to fear, after the first run we had 24 jumbo males and by 12: 30 p.m. wound up with 2 1/2 bushels. We were encouraged, as many traps contained baby crabs and abundant seaweed growth suggesting healthy bay conditions.

Trotliners in the area were not as successful as those using traps, and were averaging only a bushel. A father and daughter, enjoying the morning hand-lining from their boat in the center of the creek, caught an easy dozen in about an hour.

While the Wye and Miles rivers continue to remain slow with reported catches of several dozen, crabbers at Thompson's Creek, Crab Alley and Kent Narrows are netting one to two bushels. The Gunpowder remains slow with one crabber reporting only seven crabs in three hours and the Patapsco River, which had produced abundant crabs in the past, showing very little action. A lucky crabber at Rocky Point reported catching 1 1/2 bushels in 4 1/2 hours, and a crabber on the Magothy caught a bushel in two hours. Crab pots off private piers in Crisfield are catching five to 10 small keepers a day.

Even though I have been satisfied with my catches, I firmly believe that we should take all precautions to keep the Atlantic blue crab from becoming endangered. Although many believe a moratorium on harvesting crabs would be a good idea, perhaps a catch limit, as we now have for rockfish, would replenish the crab supply.

Virginia's law allowing the dredging of crabs also might be seriously impacting the crustacean. Females mate only once in their lifetime, from their immature to mature slough, and then travel to the mouth of the bay where they often hibernate before spawning. They can store the sperm up to a year before using it to fertilize their eggs, sometimes spawning several times, using a portion of the sperm each time. The loss of these crabs before they have a chance to reproduce could prove to be devastating.

Laws limiting the amount of fertilizer used per acre by farmers may help control harmful nutrient runoff, even though much of the runoff effecting the bay originated 20 years ago, for it takes that long for some of these nutrients to reach the bay.

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