- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A recent meeting between commercial watermen and recreational crabbers about the dearth of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay resulted in angry exchanges, highlighting the extent of the problem.

The sides met as Maryland and Virginia consider deep cuts to the crab harvest.

Recreational watermen balked at arguments from the pros that the states’ surveys may be wrong, that crabs aren’t so limited and the harvest shouldn’t be cut as severely as state regulators are considering. The regulators want to cut as much as 40 percent of the female harvest until the stock revives.

The professional crabbers jeered when the recreational watermen spoke in favor of the harvest reductions.

Despite entreaties from state officials to remember that the meeting was being held in a church, the professional crabbers at one point shouted insults and stormed out of the room.

Times are bad for the Chesapeake crabbers, and as the crab population dwindles, old tensions between professional watermen and sportsmen strengthen. Both are jockeying for the remaining crabs.

The rivalry has always existed, but with the crab population down for a decade, and more harvest cuts expected in Maryland and Virginia, the dispute is getting ugly.

“Here we go again, begging for our livelihood,” said waterman Den Beck, of Essex, speaking so loudly that he didn’t need the microphone provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The cuts are to protect more reproducing adult females, called sooks (rhymes with “books”). Options include a new size limit, lower bushel limits and even an all-out ban on catching sooks for several weeks in the fall, when they are caught easily as they head south to warmer water.

Virginia is considering similar options.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, both Democrats, are expected soon to announce the results of a winter dredge survey that purportedly will show another bad year for crabs.

Potential reductions also were announced for recreational crabbers. The department may suggest a complete ban on keeping female crabs, and regulators are expected to restrict the times that hobbyists can catch crabs.

Neither side is happy with how the other is being managed.

Pros complain that DNR doesn’t keep track of how many crabs hobbyists catch, questioning estimates that recreational crabbers catch less than 10 percent of an annual harvest.

Watermen also took issue with a proposed change to catch limits on recreational crabbers that some pros contend could lead to more crabs taken by amateurs.

Professional waterman Thomas Dean Jr., of Point Lookout, in St. Mary’s County, thinks recreational watermen should not be allowed to crab.

“They don’t belong out there at all,” he said.

Recreational watermen say they are not to blame and that crabs don’t belong to just the pros.

“The resource belongs to the people,” said Robert Glenn, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, a group that frequently clashes with professional fishermen.

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