The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has adopted new regulations for the 2009 recreational and commercial blue crab fisheries. Like the 2008 regulations, these regulations are designed to achieve the target annual fishing level of 46 percent, with a continued focus on protecting mature female crabs to accelerate stock rebuilding. The target removal rate is based on advice of the Chesapeake Bay Program Stock Assessment Committee and represents the percentage of crabs that can be safely removed from the population each year.
“Once again, the Maryland regulations are closely coordinated with actions undertaken by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission to ensure a Bay wide approach to blue crab conservation and management,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin.
During the summer and fall of 2008, the Department worked closely with the blue crab industry to develop alternative management strategies for 2009.
“The 2009 regulations are designed to spread the regulatory impact throughout the crabbing season,” said Frank W. Dawson, DNR Assistant Secretary for Aquatic Resources Programs. “The 2008 crabbing restrictions were focused on the fall of the year, which disproportionately impacted the Lower Eastern Shore. The new proposals strive to maintain adequate conservation of females and meet the management principles of measurability, reliability and enforceability. In 2009, DNR will use Federal Fisheries Disaster Funds to place at least two additional enforcement officers on the water to ensure compliance to the blue crab regulations.”
The new regulation contains a combination of daily bushel limits for mature female hard crabs and periods of closure for harvest of mature female hard crabs. Mature female hard crab bushel limits will be assigned based on license type. The regulation further provides DNR with the authority to establish and modify a season or catch limit by public notice based on continuous monitoring of stock conditions and harvest rates.
Based on a large volume of public comment, the Department withdrew the Limited Crab Catcher (LCC) component of the proposal which would have frozen latent (unused) LCC licenses that have not been used during the years 2004 through 2008.
“During the course of public comment on the proposed 2009 regulations, the vast majority of verbal and written comment was directed at this latent effort provision,” said DNR Secretary John R. Griffin.”Many of those who commented expressed concern over the fairness of freezing the commercial licenses of individuals who have not been crabbing in efforts to restore crab populations. Others expressed concern that the proposal does not adequately address the full challenge of protecting a stressed crab population from over 6,000 commercial licensees, when less than one third of those licensees reported catching crabs in recent years.”
Latent effort in the blue crab fishery remains a major concern as the work to rebuild blue crab populations continues. Latent effort is defined as licensed potential fishing effort that has not been used to full capacity in recent years. This includes licenses that are held, but not used, and fishermen that are fishing below licensed capacity. Large amounts of licensed latent effort re-entering the fishery could short circuit the rebuilding process.
DNR has initiated a review of management goals and public comment on the latent effort issue to identify alternative solutions. The Department expects to re-propose regulatory action later this spring so that a regulation to address latent effort is effective by September 1, 2009.
Finally, there are no significant changes to the recreational fishery under the adopted 2009 regulations. Regulations prohibiting the harvest of all female crabs (except soft crabs) to recreational crabbers remain in place for 2009.
The Department withdrew the portion of the 2009 regulatory proposal that would have required a free registration for crabbers not currently required to have a license. The Department will continue to evaluate options to improve its ability to more accurately estimate the harvest of crabs by recreational crabbers.
Closure Dates & Bushel Limits
The season closure dates for commercial harvest of mature female hard crabs are:
1. June 1 through June 15, inclusive;
2. September 26 through October 4, inclusive; and
3. November 11 through December 15 inclusive.
Final bushel limits and closures may be modified after the results of the winter dredge survey are announced in April, 2009. Defining bushel limits and closures by public notice will allow the Department the flexibility to adjust restrictions so that the fishery continues to harvest no more than 46% of the total crab abundance.