Virginia regulators adopt stricter crab limits

February 27, 2002|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Virginia's fisheries regulators adopted yesterday a set of crabbing restrictions that enforce an eight-hour workday much like Maryland's and create size limits.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission also agreed to hold public hearings on a proposal to ban taking sponge crabs - females with their egg sacs showing - for one week in the summer and to increase the size of a crab sanctuary that runs the length of Virginia's portion of the Chesapeake Bay.

The regulations are part of a joint effort by Virginia and Maryland to replenish a declining crab population by reducing catches by 15 percent over three years and increasing the number of crabs left in the bay to reproduce. The Virginia rules are still more lenient than those proposed two months ago by Maryland.

The Chesapeake Bay crab harvest declined steadily during the 1990s, and scientific surveys warned that the crustacean population could crash without strict conservation measures.

Maryland crabbers have complained that they are bearing the brunt of the restrictions while Virginians, who can crab year-round, get along more easily. Last season, Virginia closed its crab and peeler pot fisheries two days a week in July and August, reduced the catch limit in its winter dredge fisheries and limited catches for recreational crabbers.

This year's eight-hour workday replaces the two-day closing. The regulations also create a minimum size of 3 inches for peeler crabs, those about to shed their shells, said Wilford Kale, spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Waterman's Association, called Virginia's new regulations a "step in the right direction" but scoffed at the proposal to ban taking sponge crabs for a week in July or August.

"Right, when they're not catching sponge crabs anyway," he said.

After the 2000 season, the worst in modern recordkeeping, Maryland imposed the eight-hour workday and required crabbers to take off one day a week. The 2001 season was the second-worst on record.

The regulations proposed for this season would increase the minimum size of peelers from 3 inches to 3 1/2 inches and that of soft crabs from 3 1/2 inches to 4 1/2 inches April 1.

The minimum size of hard crabs would increase from 5 inches to 5 1/4 inches Aug. 1. The ban on possessing undersized crabs would hit local seafood processors particularly hard, according to a University of Maryland study, because they rely on crabs imported from states with smaller size limits.

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