ANNAPOLIS – Responding to an outcry from Maryland watermen, a legislative committee Wednesday further eased restrictions on commercial and recreational blue crab fishing in Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
The vote came only a day after Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who first proposed new regulations, backed off from the strict version he unveiled in August.
An overflow crowd of more than 300 commercial watermen listened and applauded as their representatives told the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review that their livelihood–not the blue crab population–was threatened with extinction.
“We may need to bite the bullet. But we don’t need to swallow the gun,” said Larry Simms, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.
Glendening’s objective was to achieve a 20 percent reduction in the harvest of female crabs this fall. But watermen disputed Department of Natural Resources statistics on crab decline, citing the record blue crab harvest two years ago and the abundance of small female crabs in current catches. They also bristled at the lack of crabbing restrictions on Virginia watermen.
Under the committee’s plan:
* Commercial crabbing will be prohibited south of the Bay Bridge on Sundays and north of the bridge on Mondays.
* Harvesting of pots and lines will be allowed from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., an hour and one-half longer than a compromise offered Tuesday by the governor.
* Recreational crabbing will be restricted to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday.
* The season will close on Nov. 15, rather than Dec. 31.
The new regulations take effect Sept. 15.
Glendening, in a statement issued late Wednesday, said the committee’s plan would meet his conservation goal.
“Scientific data has clearly shown a decline in the bay’s female blue crab population,” Glendening said. “I am pleased that the legislators unanimously agreed that now is the time to take action, preventing a more serious problem in the future.”
Harvey Corbin, 42, a third-generation waterman from Smith Island, said in an interview that watermen are not against the idea of all restrictions, but that decision-makers should consider limiting the number of pots and use of spotlights during night fishing to conserve the crab population.
“I don’t think we should be out there night and day trying to catch the crabs,” Corbin said. “We need some protections.”
Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, agreed that the blue crab is a “bi-state resource” and that long-term regulatory action should include neighboring Virgina. He noted that steering committees from Maryland and Virginia were scheduled to meet Sept. 21 in Richmond. Maryland crabbing regulations for 1996 will most likely evolve from pending discussions with Virginia officials, as well as from new statistics establishing the relative health of the blue crab population, according to Del. John S. Arnick, D- Baltimore County, the committee chairman. -30-