Watermen, packers drop suit over state's crabbing limits

Opposing regulations deemed `waste of time' as season nears end

October 16, 2001|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Looking to cut its losses, a coalition of lower Eastern Shore watermen and seafood packers is dropping its lawsuit to overturn Maryland's new regulations limiting crabbers to eight-hour workdays.

The group and the state Department of Natural Resources are to file papers today in Worcester County Circuit Court to dismiss the case.

The move occurs two weeks before crabbing is cut off for the year and as DNR considers additional restrictions for next season, which starts April 1.

Anthony G. Gorski, the lawyer for the watermen and packers, said his clients decided it was "a waste of time and money" to continue, "given the tenor" of a preliminary ruling against them in August.

In that decision, Judge J. Owen Wise said the coalition's likelihood of success in the case was "in the category of a remote possibility."

Gorski said his clients believe there "are better ways of helping watermen," suggesting they would resist new restrictions.

Casey Todd, head of Metompkin Bay Oyster Inc. in Crisfield, said the watermen and processors decided the suit was useless because "we're looking at a legal system that's prepared to support what DNR wants to do."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said through a spokeswoman that although the Lower Shore group balked, "many watermen recognize crab restrictions are necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the Atlantic blue crab."

`Aggressive action' sought

Scientific studies have suggested that a single event such as a hurricane could cause the collapse of the bay's crab population, Glendening noted, adding, "We must take aggressive action now so that future generations of Marylanders will be able to continue to enjoy crabs."

Faced with declining catches and low population estimates of the most economically important species in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission all have agreed to reduce commercial crab harvests by 15 percent over the next three years.

Curbs were delayed

Virginia and the Potomac commission, a bi-state organization that regulates fishing in the river, imposed restrictions at the beginning of the season, April 1. Maryland's curbs were delayed until July by legislators sympathetic to complaining watermen -- which prompted the governor to close the season a month early, Nov. 1.

Crab catches this season have remained at or near the record lows of last year throughout the bay, according to the latest harvest reports.

DNR officials are developing additional restrictions to cut the harvest another 5 percent next year. Department Secretary J. Charles Fox has said he has not decided what those restrictions will be.

The Lower Shore watermen and seafood dealers insist that crabs remain plentiful in the bay but that their harvest is being underreported.

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