Hard times for hardshells

Crabbing licenses: Recreational crabbers must respect limits to protect declining fishery.

March 15, 2001

IT'S HARD to imagine that dropping a couple of chicken-neck lines in the water on a summer day is going to have an impact on the health of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.

Yet no one knows the cumulative effect of recreational chicken-neckers, potters, trappers and boaters on the population of these seemingly abundant crustaceans that define our bay.

The recreational catch could range from 20 percent to 40 percent of the commercial harvest -- a significant number. Fisheries experts need a better handle on the impact of recreational crabbing, along with reasonable catch limits, to effectively manage and sustain this unique resource.

Broadly endorsed legislation now before the General Assembly would achieve these desirable goals. A $5 crabbing license ($2 for residents with a fishing license) would be required. The daily catch limit would be one bushel of hardshells per person and per boat.

With biologists expecting another near-record low in crab harvests this year following three disappointing seasons, there's urgent need to reduce fishing pressures on these popular shellfish. Maryland is also planning new limits on commercial crabbers, restricting their working hours and days.

The Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee is urging Virginia and Maryland to reduce their harvest by 15 percent over three years to double the bay's adult crab-spawning population.

Fishing licenses and catch limits are widely accepted as common sense. That's what is needed in the legislature to ensure that all who use and benefit from the bay take responsibility for its welfare.

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