- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Restrictions on catching crabs should be retained for another season, though the number of juvenile crabs in the Chesapeake Bay is increasing, an advisory committee said yesterday.

The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee said the population of blue crabs measuring more than 5 inches remained below the long-term average for the eighth consecutive year.

The committee, an independent panel working through the federal government’s Chesapeake Bay Program, said the number of mature females of spawning age decreased slightly in 2004, after showing modest gains the three previous years.

“It’s somewhat of a mixed bag,” said Derek Orner, a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, he called the increase in the juvenile population “a very good sign.”

Restrictions on crabbing in the Bay have been in place since 2001. They were introduced first in Maryland, then in Virginia.

“The goal was to double the spawning stock,” Mr. Orner said. “To this point, the management goal has not been met,” although conservation efforts appear to be working.

“Overall, we’ve seen improvements from the very depressed levels … of a few yeas ago,” Mr. Orner said.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said the organization recommends leaving restrictions in place.

“We think the restrictions are working,” he said. “I think it’s the appropriate thing to do.”

He said the association is under a tentative deal in which members won’t ask that the restrictions be lifted as long as officials do not introduce more.

Licensed commercial crabbers in Maryland are allowed to catch crabs six days a week, taking off either Sunday or Monday, and can work their crab pots for eight hours a day. They can put out a maximum 300 pots for the captain of the boat, 600 with one additional licensed crabber aboard and 900 pots with two additional licensed crabbers on the boat.

Restrictions on Maryland recreational crabbers cover the hours and the days crabbing is allowed and the types of gear that can be used.

The 2004 commercial crabbing season in Maryland ended in December with the biggest catch since 1999. It was the fourth consecutive year of improved harvests.

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