- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland is putting forth bushel limits, but no size limit, as it seeks to reduce this year’s female crab harvest by a third.

State fishery regulators suggested the bushel limits yesterday but said they have abandoned plans to limit watermen to keeping females only smaller than 6.5 inches. The size limit was strongly disliked by watermen, who complained that it would force them to stop work and cull through their crab pots to pick out the largest females.

Maryland also plans to end the female harvest Oct. 22 and put females off-limits completely for recreational crabbers.

The harvest limits are proposed as scientists warn the hallmark seafood of the Chesapeake Bay is being overharvested and is danger of serious decline if its numbers aren’t restored. Maryland last year notched its lowest crab harvest since 1945; Virginia hit a record low.

Fishery managers say just under half the crabs should be caught each year, but in recent years, watermen on the Chesapeake have been taking about 60 percent of the crabs in the estuary.

“That’s particularly alarming,” said Frank Dawson, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which announced the regulations yesterday.

Watermen have said they could be run out of business by plans by Maryland and Virginia to reduce the female harvest by 34 percent until winter surveys indicate that the crab population has rebounded.

“Everybody will feel it, and some will feel it more than others,” said Marcus Blake, a crabber from Essex in Baltimore County.

The regulations take into account two of the crabbers’ concerns — that a flat bushel limit would unfairly hurt large crabbers more than small ones and that the 6.5-inch limit would be unworkable.

Virginia is to announce some proposed regulations today.

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