Female blue crab harvest cut

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ANNAPOLIS (AP) - Lawmakers agreed yesterday to slash this year’s female blue crab harvest by more than a third because of warnings by scientists that the Chesapeake Bay’s hallmark seafood is in danger of irreversible decline.

Biologists say the number of adult blue crabs in the Bay is about 120 million, with about 200 million adult crabs needed to ensure a healthy population.

The 34 percent cut will be achieved through bushel limits and an early end to the female crabbing season in the fall, when pregnant adult females migrate south and are easily caught. A House-Senate panel of lawmakers voted 10-2 to approve the cuts, already enacted in Virginia.

Maryland authorities rejected a proposal by watermen to instead institute the state’s first crab sanctuary in deep water. Biologists say the sanctuary plan would not achieve the harvest cuts needed to protect blue crabs.

The harvest cuts were adopted after little debate. The state Department of Natural Resources , which regulates the fishery and proposed the cuts, announced the plan more than a month ago, and the legislative committee charged with approving regulatory changes usually defers to the agencies responsible.

With the regulations thought destined for quick approval, few watermen showed up yesterday to dispute the plan. But those who did were passionate.

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