ANNAPOLIS – Sen. Richard Colburn invoked his family tree Tuesday in pushing his bill to prohibit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources from setting seasons on the blue crab without the approval of the General Assembly.
“It is personal to me because my grandfather was a waterman,” Colburn, R-Dorchester, told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. “I’m proud of that fact.”
And Colburn said he represents many watermen who “feel that it’s wrong” for a bureaucracy’s regulations to have the force of law.
At issue were last fall’s emergency restrictions, which shortened the crabbing season and limited watermen’s days and hours.
“We hurt our industry and our economy,” Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, told the committee.
Studies reporting a marked decline in the crab population prompted Marylanders, who want to be good citizens, to refrain from eating crabs, Stoltzfus said.
Thomas Kimmel, a lobbyist for the Dorchester County Seafood Harvester’s Association, said his clients estimate that the emergency regulations cost the state’s economy nearly $9.5 million in revenue and Dorchester’s bout $3 million.
But representatives of the DNR and its allies were just as forceful in defending the agency’s authority over what many call a threatened resource.
Colburn’s bill “would restrict the effectiveness of the department’s ability to manage the crab fishery,” DNR officials argued in a written report to the committee.
Richard Novotny, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfisherman’s Association, agreed. “The department must be able to establish seasons for blue crabs in order to protect their stocks. The blue crab is a very finite resource that is in need of protection,” Novotny said.
And Thomas Grasso of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the department had acted prudently in the fall, “based on a number of studies.”
Colburn, acknowledging that the bill may be “a little harsh,” offered an amendment saying the DNR could not make new regulations once the season starts April 1.
Kimmel suggested requiring the DNR “to publish the regulations in advance of the season, not to change them midstream after some … emergency.”
Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, pointed out that the crab population fluctuates. A certain weather pattern could cause a drop and then suddenly a lot of crabs might appear, he said.
“What we see happening here is that as soon as some group decides that they think it’s a crisis then the Department of Natural has a knee-jerk reaction,” Simns said.
Stoltzfus agreed. “I think we should have [regulations],” he said. “It’s just a matter of how we arrive at them.” -30-