Maryland's commercial crabbers will be able to fish in November next year, but they still will have to abide by the eight-hour workday imposed this year as part of a plan to reduce the crab harvest by 15 percent over three years.
The proposed new regulations, to be announced today by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, are expected to be the final step in efforts to cut Maryland's crab harvest in hopes of doubling the size of the spawning stock of the Chesapeake Bay's most valuable fishery.
They come a month after the end of the second-worst crab season in modern times and a few days before the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee meets to chart a course for new efforts to restore the fishery.
The regulations also would increase size limits for peeler crabs from 3 to 3 1/2 inches and tighten the tolerance for undersized crabs.
Under current regulations, watermen are allowed 30 undersized crabs in a bushel. That number would drop to 10 under the new regulations.
In addition, fisheries managers in Maryland, Virginia and on the Potomac River have been discussing coordinating size limits as part of the baywide rescue effort to double the size of the blue crab spawning stock.
One item under discussion is an agreement between the two states and river fisheries commission to act in common to increase the legal size for peeler crabs, said Jack Travelstead, director of fisheries for the Virginia Marine Resource Commission. "Maryland has talked about raising the size limits on hard crabs, but I think that would be very difficult to work in Virginia because as you get closer to the mouth of the bay, the crabs get smaller."
Travelstead is to deliver recommendations for Virginia's new regulations to the commission's advisory board Dec. 17. The commission could vote on them the next day.
Bay scientists fear that an increasing market for soft and peeler crabs could confound conservation efforts because it targets crabs that haven't reproduced.
Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said his organization would accede to the new regulations without a fight, but "anything beyond that, we'd be opposed to unless Virginia does the same thing at the same time."
Although Virginia has moved to cut its crab harvest, Maryland watermen have complained that restrictions placed on them give the Virginians an unfair advantage.
Maryland's Department of Natural Resources is to deliver the proposed new regulations to the Administrative Executive Legislative Review Committee, a panel from both houses of the General Assembly. The committee may comment on the regulations, but they can go into effect April 1, the beginning of the crab season, without committee approval.
Last April, the committee rejected emergency regulations that cut commercial crabbers' workdays from 14 to 8 hours and required them to take off one day a week. That delayed implementation of the regulations until late July.
To make up for that delay, Glendening closed the crab season Nov. 1, a month early.