Maryland moved Monday to reduce the commercial harvest of female blue crabs in the aftermath of a survey finding that the Chesapeake Bay's crab population hit a five-year low last winter.
The Department of Natural Resources announced that it was lowering the daily allowable catch of female crabs, effective Thursday. The move comes nearly a month after Maryland and Virginia officials announced the results of their annual winter dredge survey, which found that the bay's crab population had declined by nearly two-thirds over the previous year, to around 300 million, with juvenile crabs plummeting 80 percent.
The number of female crabs increased substantially despite the overall decline, and remained well above the threshold scientists say is needed to sustain the population. But officials said they would seek to reduce the female crab harvest by 10 percent as a precaution, to boost prospects for a good spawn this year and possibly spark a rebound in the prized crustaceans.
Officials are reducing the daily catch limits on female crabs by 20 to 40 percent, depending on the time of year and the number of "pots" each commercial waterman is licensed to use to harvest crabs.
Leaders of the state's commercial fishing groups voiced displeasure with the cutbacks, saying they didn't understand why catch limits had to be reduced so much.
"We all want a sustainable fishery," said Gibby Dean, president of the Chesapeake Bay Commercial Fishermen's Association. "It's just very complicated."
Brenda Davis, chief of DNR's crab program, said a simple 10 percent reduction in catch limits would not reduce the actual harvest enough because many watermen were not catching their limits before.
"In May there's not as many people participating in the fishery," she explained, "and the odds of them catching more than the bushel limit is not very high."
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