Paucity of Crabs Prompts Plan to Reduce Harvests

Associated Press
Friday, February 29, 2008

Fearing that blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay are dipping to dangerously low levels, Maryland fisheries managers are planning deep multi-year cuts to the commercial harvest of the Chesapeake's best-known product.

At a tense meeting last night, Maryland authorities explained their proposals to about 100 crabbers. The cuts are recommended because last year's harvest in the state was the second-lowest since 1945, and scientists expect this summer's catch won't be much better.

"This is tough stuff," said Lynn Fegley, a biologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who oversees the state's crab population.

Her voice at times shaking, Fegley somberly told crabbers that because blue crabs in the Chesapeake are so scarce, Maryland runs the risk of overharvesting them so much they wouldn't be able to rebound.

Fegley said the state estimates that fewer than 150 million adult blue crabs live in the Chesapeake. There were more than 450 million as recently as 1991.

If the population dips below 86 million adult crabs, Fegley said, "you start to run the risk you're not going to have adequate crabs to reproduce."

Virginia fisheries officials have signaled that major changes to their crab limits are coming, too.

Both states are looking at lower bushel limits, fewer recreational licenses to catch crabs and a full ban on catching females over a certain size to give them a better chance to spawn.

"We've tried everything, but we haven't tried this," Fegley said. "We need to foster protection for those females. It's our best chance."

Virginia and Maryland haven't made final decisions on limits.

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