Maryland Announces Voluntary License Buy-back Program to Aid Blue Crab Conservation

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In an effort toward effective management of Maryland’s blue crab population, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is offering to permanently buy back 3,676 commercial limited crab catcher (LCC) licenses. DNR is implementing this buy-back program in response to public feedback offering solutions for reducing the number of inactive crabbing licenses. The agency mailed letters to all current LCC license holders informing them of this voluntary program, which will use Federal Blue Crab Disaster Funds to reduce latent effort in Maryland’s commercial blue crab fishery. Latent effort is defined as fishing effort that is not currently deployed in the fishery.

To sustainably manage the blue crab fishery, the Bay-wide targeted annual blue crab harvest is limited to removal of 46 percent of the population. Last year, in a coordinated strategy to limit the 2008 harvest to the 46 percent target and to begin rebuilding the depleted crab population, Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission adopted measures to reduce the harvest of the spawning stock of female blue crabs by 34 percent. The most recent winter dredge survey results noted a substantial increase in the adult population over 2008, indicating new management measures are working.

Inactive licenses account for approximately one-third of LCC license holders, making it difficult to adopt management strategies that will ensure the harvest target is met, while allowing full-time active crabbers to make an adequate wage. Having such a large number of people who may or may not crab in any given year poses a long-term biological and economic threat to a rebuilding stock.

“Our concern is if even a fraction of these individuals decide to re-enter the fishery in a given year, our regulations will not be sufficient to maintain the harvest target,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin. “The license buy-back program is our first step to reduce the amount of latent effort in Maryland’s commercial blue crab fishery.”

To address this problem, DNR is offering a commercial limited buy-back program through a reverse auction. The process requires individuals to submit bids to the Department for the amount of money they determine their license to be worth. If an individual chooses to sell his or her license and DNR accepts the bid, the license will be permanently retired. DNR held four open houses in April – targeting commercial crabbers and key legislators — to educate the public on the problem of latent effort and to obtain public input on possible solutions.

The deadline for submitting bids to DNR is July 31, 2009. After receiving all bids, DNR will use the range of bids received to calculate the maximum acceptable bid. Bids under that amount will be accepted from lowest to highest, until the available budget is exhausted. Individuals will be notified of acceptance or rejection of their bid by August 15, 2009, and accepted bidders will receive their payments in early September, 2009.

If inactive license holders choose not to submit a bid, or if DNR does not accept the auction bid, the license will be subject to new regulations that will be proposed in fall 2009. If approved, these regulations will require inactive LCC license holders to choose among several options. These may include: access to a limited, male-only harvest, with the licensing becoming non-transferable; or a temporary freeze of the license until the blue crab population has maintained target abundance, as determined by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee. An inactive license holder is defined as an individual who has not reported any harvest between April 1, 2004 and December 15, 2008. The deadline to return 2008 reports to the Department was January 2, 2009. Reports received by the Department after January 31, 2009 will not be counted toward an individual’s harvest history.

“Our counterparts in Virginia are also pursuing a license buy-back program this summer using Federal Blue Crab Disaster Funds, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission is discussing this as well,” said Fisheries Director Tom O’Connell. “Working in close coordination with them, we can continue to do our job of maintaining the Bay’s iconic blue crab fishery so that it will prosper for many generations to come.”

Last year, Maryland and Virginia were each awarded $10 million in Federal Blue Crab Disaster Funds from NOAA‘s National Marine Fisheries Service, in response to a request from Governors O’Malley and Kaine, and advocacy by the Maryland Congressional Delegation under the leadership of Senator Barbara Mikulski. In June, Maryland applied for an additional $5 million in Federal Blue Crab Disaster Funding that became available in May.

Maryland’s Federal Blue Crab Fisheries Disaster Funding is being directed toward work for watermen, addressing latent effort, a quality crab meat assurance program, economic diversification into aquaculture, packaging equipment upgrades for processors, a seafood marketing program for blue crabs and enhanced harvest reporting and enforcement of crabbing restrictions.

In 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley worked with Maryland legislators to identify $3 million to fund a work program through which more than 500 watermen have conducted oyster bar rehabilitation activities. An additional $3 million is included in the State’s FY ’10 budget to continue this important work.

Detailed summaries of open house material, summaries of public comment received and LCC buy back information are available at:

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