Wait till next season

Crab regulation: November closing angers watermen, but further restrictions are expected.

November 08, 2001

WATERMEN who complained about Maryland's crab season closing a month early this year may see different rules in 2002, but there's no assurance they'll like them either.

State regulators are considering options such as a late-May season opening, fewer weekly work days in season, caps on daily catches and raising the legal minimum size of harvest crabs. But they also like closing the crabbing season in November.

By nearly any measure, the Chesapeake's blue crab population has reached its lowest point in three decades. The number of females is down, males are smaller in size, baby crab estimates are dropping. Even with more waterman effort in season, the commercial catch is sliding.

Maryland and Virginia are committed to cutting the bay crab harvest by 15 percent over three years. Each has taken different steps to limit the catch: Conditions are not alike, and the crab's life cycle dictates differing responses.

But Maryland crabbers have seen a sharper drop in their harvest; this year is expected to be worse than last, which was among the worst in memory. They argue that Virginia crabbers will profit from Maryland's early closing.

Truth is, the entire Chesapeake crab industry is in serious trouble. Prices are higher, somewhat offsetting lower harvests, but more consumers and restaurants are doing without crab, or importing it from more reliable sources in the Gulf of Mexico and overseas.

To save the Chesapeake crab and provide for sustainable harvests, the baywide catch must be reduced now. Weather and biology play major roles in crab population, but the human catch is the one factor that can be controlled.

Public meetings have provided watermen's views. Now Maryland regulators must carefully balance the welfare of the blue crab and those who catch it for a living.

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