Md. seeking blue crab catch limits

Shorter workweek also eyed for watermen

January 06, 2001|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Maryland's fisheries managers are for the first time considering setting daily catch limits for blue crabs as part of a plan to protect the most economically important species in Chesapeake Bay.

Eric Schwaab, director of fisheries for the state Department of Natural Resources, floated the idea yesterday at a meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Commission in Annapolis.

There is "not a lot of sympathy" for catch limits among watermen, he conceded, but limits would "be particularly valuable in protecting" the female crabs migrating to the mouth of the bay in the fall to spawn.

Catch limits would unfairly punish the crews of large commercial crabbers because their boats would be under the same limits as individual crabbers, argued Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association. The limits also would hurt crabbers in areas such as Dorchester County who make most of their income in the fall, he argued.

Watermen are more likely to support shorter workdays and a uniform day off, Simns said.

Maryland's crabbers can fish from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m., but must take either Sunday or Monday off. State officials are considering shortening the work day to eight hours and setting the day that watermen must take off rather than giving them an option. The single day off would be easier to enforce, Schwaab said.

The bay commission approved yesterday the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee's plan to restore the declining crab fishery by doubling the spawning stock.

Maryland officials are considering cutting catch limits and expanding license requirements for recreational crabbers in addition to shortening the workweek for commercial watermen.

Virginia fisheries managers and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, which regulates fishing in the tidal portions of the river that forms the border between Maryland and Virginia, are studying similar options.

Virginia has limited the number of commercial crab licenses available and set a deep-water crab sanctuary in the main stem of the bay from the Maryland line to Norfolk, Va., said Jack Travelstead, that state's top fisheries manager.

The regulations, designed to cut the crab harvest by 15 percent over the next three years, are to be in effect by the time the season starts in April.

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