On the dock of the bay

Our view : Given the blue crab's plight, a license (and fee) to crab is not too much to ask

November 14, 2008

With the harvest of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs at a record low and the hardships facing watermen, it hardly seems unreasonable to require all those who catch crabs to have a license.

At minimum, Maryland ought to know how many crabs are taken out of the bay, whether that's by commercial or recreational crabbers. A license is the best vehicle to help collect that crucial data as it allows researchers to more accurately survey crab catches.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is considering this modest step: Require those who crab from their waterfront property, with hand-lines from land or a few traps from a boat to be licensed. Most crabbing requires a license now; this would merely close a loophole that allows as many as 65,000 people to catch crabs without one.

How much would such a license cost? Perhaps as little as $2. Yet opponents are already grousing about the possibility of this nominal fee.Given the blue crab's serious plight, that's stunning. Last year, the crab harvest was the lowest since 1945. There was a time when fishing from tidal waters didn't require a license either, but that had to change when striped bass harvests fell to record levels two decades ago.

If Gov. Martin O'Malley's political opponents want to bash him for mandating a license or raising a fee in these difficult times, they had better be prepared to acknowledge the consequences of doing nothing - furthering the decline of an endangered Chesapeake Bay icon.

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