ANNAPOLIS – Eastern Shore lawmakers who make up the Blue Crab Task Force blasted the Department of Natural Resources Friday for using shoddy science and “make-believe” numbers to overstate the danger to the state’s blue crab population.
After dismissing the findings of a new department paper on the crab population, the task force drafted its own recommendations, which it planned to send to the governor’s office Friday afternoon.
“I see the DNR as the left arm of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation . . . friend of the environmentalists, enemy of the watermen,” said Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester.
First convened in January, the task force has been trying to change a new set of regulations on crabbing in response to complaints from watermen that the regulations introduced by the department last year were too strict, particularly on the lower bay.
The task force agreed to send four recommendations on relaxing crabbing regulations to Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
It recommended increasing the length of the workday for crabbers from eight to 10 hours, decreasing the minimum length of soft shell and peeler crabs by one half-inch, to 3.5 inches and 3 inches, respectively, and allowing harvesting of 5-inch hard shell crabs from April 1 through Aug. 1.
A recommendation to allow packing houses to import sponge crabs, which are illegal to catch in Maryland, from out of state, was included in the letter.
The DNR report that drew the task force’s ire was compiled in response to the panel’s requests for information, and the researchers who completed it were asked not to bring any preconceptions to the table when working on the report, said department Secretary C. Ronald Franks.
“It is the best science that we have,” he said. “(Although) it may not respond to your desires in a way that you’re comfortable with.”
The report was just more “agenda-driven science” and part of “the same old DNR playbook” — bad news chosen to support a predetermined outcome, said Delegate Kenneth Schisler, R-Talbot.
Although little of the report’s substance was discussed, the department’s use of eight years as the maximum theoretical age of a crab in its population models, rather than the average age of about three years, was the subject of the fiercest debate.
“You’re so convinced that the life of a crab is eight years, it’s pathetic,” said Delegate D. Page Elmore, R-Somerset.
But the department’s science, based on findings of the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee, was sound, said Eric Schwaab, director of the department’s Fisheries Service.
“Maybe it’s more reasonable than it’s being given credit here,” he said.
In addition to the report, the department’s standing in the community came under fire as well.
“It’s going to be hell on the water unless we do something, because there’s no respect, (for the DNR)” said Delegate Rudolph Cane, D-Wicomico.
The harshest criticism came from Colburn, who accused the DNR of carrying out a “vendetta against the Lower Shore watermen.”
But one task force member, Delegate Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent, defended the agency, and said the task force members aren’t scientists, and lambasting the department because you don’t like its data is a “foolish exercise.”
“If we reject the science because we don’t like the conclusions,” Walkup said, “we’re no place at all and we haven’t accomplished anything.” – 30 – CNS-2-28-03