WASHINGTON – Maryland’s dismal 2001 crab harvest is likely to match last year’s record-low catch when the season ends Wednesday, Department of Natural Resources officials said.
Numbers for the 2001 harvest will not be available until late November, but results from September and August indicate a repeat of last year’s poor harvest. And numbers could be even lower overall than last year, because the season is ending a month earlier this year.
“It’s going to be another year that is well below the long-term average,” said DNR fisheries director Eric Schwaab.
The 32-year average is 75 million pounds per year from the entire bay, but the three-year average is only about 60 million pounds per year, according to the federal government’s Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee.
The DNR said preliminary numbers show Maryland watermen harvested 4.2 million pounds in August, up from 3.1 million pounds a year before, and they caught 3.2 million pounds this September, the same as last September.
In July, as the size of this year’s harvest became apparent, officials in Maryland decided to end the crabbing season a month early, limit watermen to six days of crabbing a week and cut back the number of hours they could spend on the water each day.
The Maryland season is closing just days after the state held its first hearing on next year’s crabbing limitations.
But watermen blame the shortfall on poor water quality and they say environmental regulations — not further restrictions on crabbing — are what is needed.
“Ending the season on Nov. 1 is ridiculous,” said Kenny Keen, vice president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.
“Crabs reproduce really fast,” Keen said. “If they were to ever put a moratorium on crabbing, you wouldn’t even be able to put your foot in the water after a year.”
While crabs do reproduce very fast, the number of mature female crabs needs to increase before the crab population will rise, said Bill Goldsborough, a senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“We need to double the number of mature female crabs in order to have a stable crab population,” he said.
The foundation this month released its annual “State of the Bay” report, which cited the depletion of the crab population as one of the major problems with the health of the bay. While the foundation agrees with watermen that pollution is part of the problem, it also said excessive harvesting seems to be a bigger problem now.
Goldsborough stressed that restrictions on the harvest now will improve the lot for watermen in the long run.
“The ultimate objective of this strategy is to improve the fishery,” Goldsborough said. “In the long run, it is fully anticipated not only the crab but also the crabbers will benefit if we are able to implement this strategy.”
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