Crab catch still small

August harvest in Md. only slightly better than 2000 record low

Shortage is baywide

Higher prices balance losses, but shortened season may hurt

September 28, 2001|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Blue crab catches are at or near record lows throughout the Chesapeake Bay this year, not just in Maryland, according to the latest harvest reports.

New figures show the August catch in Maryland's bay waters was only slightly better this year than last year, which was the worst season since the Department of Natural Resources began keeping reliable records in 1994.

In August, Maryland watermen took 3.8 million pounds of crabs from the Chesapeake, just enough to boost the spring and summer catch to about 12.3 million pounds -- a scant 20,000 pounds more than in the same months last year.

With watermen banned from catching crabs in November as part of conservation measures imposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the shortened season could become the state's worst on record, DNR officials said.

This year, "the problem seems more pervasive baywide," said Eric Schwaab, DNR's fisheries director.

Virginia watermen, who fared relatively well compared with Marylanders last year, reported catches this year that were 48 percent below average for July, the latest figures available.

And on the Potomac, watermen caught less than one-third their usual number of crabs in July and about half as many as in a typical August, according to the Potomac River Fisheries Commission.

"It's got a long way to go to make up for a very poor spring and summer," said A.C. Carpenter, executive secretary of the Potomac commission.

Crabber Bob Evans of Shady Side in southern Anne Arundel County said the government figures are lower than the true harvest, but this is undeniably the second bad season in a row.

"The watermen don't write down what they catch on the catch reports because they don't like people to know their business," said Evans, 48, a Maryland Waterman's Association board member.

Still, Evans said, "August was bad and September's been the same. We're catching a few more crabs, but not what we should be."

Higher prices at the dock and in seafood markets have made up for the watermen's losses, Evans said. But he expects to lose thousands of dollars when the early end of the crab season forces him to switch to oystering in November.

Amid concerns that the crabs' breeding population may have fallen to dangerously low levels, fishery managers from Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac agreed last year to cut the harvests 15 percent by 2003, and placed new restrictions on watermen.

But the managers said they don't think those restrictions are the reason for this year's low catch.

"I suspect it has a lot more to do with a shortage of crabs," Carpenter said.

DNR's Schwaab said state officials will soon begin public meetings with watermen as the first step in drawing up additional catch restrictions for next year.

Among the options being considered, Schwaab said, are shortening the watermen's workweek from six days to five; increasing size limits, especially for peeler crabs; and restricting the harvest of migrating females in the fall.

"I don't know where the restrictions are going to come from, because they got us down to the wire now," Evans said. "We can't live with any more."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.