A century-old ban on commercial crabbing across state lines in the Chesapeake Bay has been removed by court order, but the change has not come about entirely peacefully.
Maryland and Virginia officials said four men in a Virginia-registered boat this week shot and injured two Maryland oystermen in Pokomoke Sound, a half-mile inside Maryland, southeast of the Eastern Shore town of Crisfield.
The incident was reminiscent of the so-called "oyster wars" that pitted watermen of the two adjoining states against each other, often violently, into the early 1960s.
But authorities could not say for sure whether the incident was related to a federal court order that opened Virginia waters to crabbing by Maryland watermen, a shift that was hotly contested by Virginians.
Maryland State Police Sgt. Claude Nichols said the incident this week was being investigated as a possible case of assault with intent to murder. He said the investigation was centering on the Virginia Eastern Shore town of Saxis, eight straight-line miles from Crisfield (but farther by water).
Randall Franklin Burke, 25, and his brother, Ronald William Burke, 21, were returning to Crisfield from an oystering trip when a boat with four men pulled alongside and opened fire with rifles and a shotgun, according to Maryland State Police trooper Gary Bounds.
Randall Burke was wounded in the back and arms and Ronald Burke in the right arm and face. Neither was seriously hurt, and both were promptly released from hospitalization.
George Stoddart, Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb's press secretary, said Robb and Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes agreed by telephone to cooperate fully in investigating the shooting.
Betty J. Diener, Virginia's secretary of commerce and resources, said both states were increasing boat patrols to guard against further violence.
"We are concerned that there not be violence on the bay, whether in Virginia or in Maryland waters," she said.
Until last Friday, nonresidents of Virginia were forbidden to take crab in the state's waters. But U.S. District Judge D. Dortch Warriner ruled the Virginia law unconstitutional.