- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

RICHMOND (AP) Restrictions on blue crab harvests helped the number of breeding blue crabs double in the Chesapeake Bay this year compared with last year, a researcher said.
That could be good news for watermen, since it could lead to less stringent restrictions on a fishery that pumps $100 million a year into Virginia's economy.
Rom Lipcius, a marine science professor from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, presented his findings at a recent meeting of the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee.
Surveys done from the mouth of the Rappahannock River to just beyond the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay show that the blue crab breeding population was double what researchers saw last year and 40 percent higher than the average population of the past three years.
The population was greater than it was in five of the past nine years, when a big slump set in, Mr. Lipcius said.
Mr. Lipcius cautioned that much work remains to be done. Last year, he noted, was the worst in terms of breeder population; it was only 8 percent of what it had been before 1992.
"It's like the stock market," Mr. Lipcius said. "We're not out of the recession, but we're climbing."
The overall population remains at 15 to 20 percent of what it was before 1992, said Robert O'Reilly, deputy chief of fisheries management at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
"We're still at a low level, but at least it didn't continue its slide," Mr. O'Reilly said of the 2001 data.
"That means it's a good sign to see some rebound in the spawning stock."
Mr. Lipcius attributes the upswing to the June 2000 creation of a 328,984-acre sanctuary in the Bay and regulations the VMRC adopted in May, such as forbidding watermen from gathering crabs on Wednesdays from June 6 to Aug. 22, during peak harvest season. That cut the harvest by 5 percent, the first phase of a plan to reduce crab harvests by 15 percent over three years.
If growth continues, regulators might settle for a 10 percent reduction in harvests instead of 15 percent, Mr. Lipcius said.
The population increase has a good chance of continuing, Mr. Lipcius said, as researchers propose extending the crab sanctuary and restricting harvests by another 5 percent next year.
"It's really too early to know, but the indication is that it's likely to be as good or better next year," he said.

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