Va. extends crab sanctuary almost 100 miles north in bay

Summertime safe harbor protects spawning areas

June 28, 2000|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

The agency that regulates Virginia's fisheries created a summertime crab sanctuary yesterdaystretching nearly 100 miles up the middle of Chesapeake Bay from its mouth at Cape Henry to the Maryland line at the Potomac River.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission approved the sanctuary, which generally follows depths of 35 feet and more, by a 6-1 vote after a hearing in Richmond. It will be in effect from Saturday to Sept. 15 this year and from June 1 to Sept. 15 in following years, said Wilford Kale, spokesman for the commission.

The sanctuary was developed by Rom Lipcius of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences with input from watermen, wholesalers and environmental groups. Designed to protect pregnant female crabs, it adds 465 square miles to existing crab sanctuaries in the spawning grounds at the mouth of the bay.

Lipcius called the move an "important, powerful step" in revitalizing the bay's flagging blue crab population.

Jack Travelstead, VMRC's fisheries manager, called it a "pre-emptive strike before things get worse."

The plan received support from environmentalists as well as commercial fishermen. Twelve of Virginia's watermen's associations endorsed the plan, as did the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Alarmed by declining crab harvests and studies that say the blue crab population could crash without strong conservation measures, Virginia and Maryland are in themidst of a two-year study of the fishery and are preparing to overhaul the way crabs are harvested.

Chesapeake 2000, the bay restoration agreement that is to be signed today, calls for the establishment of blue crab "harvest targets."

While there are no marks in the bay to outline the sanctuary, VMRC can monitor it "from the water and sky," Kale said.

"If watermen see us flying over the bay, they can bet our boats will be on water nearby," he said.

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