- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Blue-crab harvest regulations intended to allow stocks to rebound from historic lows could be rolled back to adjust for the disproportionate impact they have on watermen in some parts of the Chesapeake Bay, a state environmental official said.
In August, the state raised the minimum size for hard-shell male crabs to 5 inches as part of three-year agreement with Virginia to reduce the Chesapeake harvest by 15 percent.
The new size limit is expected to cut the harvest 18 percent during the coming season, which begins April 1, the Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) director of Fisheries Service, Eric Schwaab, told a group of Eastern Shore lawmakers on Friday.
"We do have some room to work with," Mr. Schwaab said.
The 2002 harvest was the second-lowest in recent years, better than the record low of 2000 but below 2001, and Mr. Schwaab said biologists still have concerns about the population. Any tweaks to the regulations would be enacted by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the new head of the DNR, whom Mr. Ehrlich is expected to announce in the next few days.
Ehrlich spokesman Shareese DeLeaver said that "crabbing limitations will be revisited, and that's a priority" for the new governor, but she declined to discuss specific proposals.
Watermen had been critical of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening for the regulations, which they said threatened their livelihood. Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said the DNR's openness to change may be a reaction to the incoming Republican administration.
"Everybody's trying to save their jobs," Mr. Simns said.
The combination of regulations, which have included a mandated eight-hour workday and a month-shorter season in 2001, have hit watermen in some parts of the state harder than others, Mr. Schwaab said.
Crabs run larger in the upper Chesapeake, where the salinity is lower, Mr. Schwaab said, but it also may be because there are fewer crabbers there to catch them.
Watermen on the Lower Shore have been forced to throw back more of their catch because the crabs are smaller than the limits. For example, the DNR estimates that harvests have been down about 40 percent in the Tangier Sound area near Crisfield, a part of the state where the economy is particularly slow.
The size limits may be lowered in those zones to help keep watermen there competitive, Mr. Schwaab said.
"I think that's a reasonable place for some discussion," Mr. Schwaab said.
State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Dorchester County Republican, said he had spoken with Mr. Ehrlich in recent weeks about crabbing regulations and that "he clearly indicated with me that he favors the zoning concept."


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