DNR Proposes Blue Crab Harvest Regulations for 2009 Season

Proposal Requires Complimentary Recreational Crabbing License; Sets Daily Female Blue Crab Bushel Limits & Seasonal Closures for Commercial Crabbers

ANNAPOLIS (Dec. 21, 2008) — On Monday, Dec. 15, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources proposed recreational and commercial blue crab harvest regulations for the 2009 season. Designed to help rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population and fishery, the proposed regulations continue the scientifically established conservation goals of reducing female blue crab harvest by 34 percent and ensuring that no more than 46 percent of the blue crab population is harvested annually.

“These regulations reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that Maryland’s iconic blue crab, and the local businesses and favorite family and community gatherings who rely upon it, continue for generations to come,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “From these regulations, we expect scientifically measurable benefits, and a more sustainable future for both blue crabs and watermen. The environmental need for these regulations, combined with federal and state assistance for impacted watermen, provides the most sensible path to restore the Chesapeake’s blue crab population.”

The proposed regulations for the 2009 Chesapeake Bay commercial blue crab fishery include daily bushel limits for mature female hard crabs and seasonal closures.

“Recognizing the influence of harvest restrictions, we designed the 2009 regulations to make the impact more manageable and equitable throughout the bay and season, while still protecting the most reproductively valuable female blue crabs,” said DNR Secretary John R. Griffin. “We worked with watermen an other interested groups throughout the summer and fall of 2008 to develop next year’s regulations.”

The proposed regulations close the commercial season for harvesting mature female hard crabs from June 1 through June 15, Sept. 26 through Oct. 4, and Nov. 11 to Dec. 15, 2009. Additionally, in order to protect blue crabs from overfishing, DNR proposes to limit excess harvest capacity by temporarily freezing unused licenses. Limited Commercial Crabbing license holders (LCC’s) who did not harvest between 2004 and 2008 will be designated as inactive until the blue crab population recovers.

Female blue crab daily catch limits will be set by public notice after DNR receives results of the winter dredge survey in April. These bushel limits will be based on a waterman’s license type. If results from the 2009 blue crab winter dredge survey indicate a significant improvement in the bay’s blue crab population, DNR may consider liberalizing commercial bushel limits and season dates. Likewise, if the survey indicates continued population decrease, further harvest restrictions would be necessary.

The proposed regulations require all recreational crabbers not currently licensed to register for a complimentary license from DNR online or at one of the DNR seven license service centers across the state. Additionally, the prohibition on female blue crab harvest (except soft crabs) for recreational crabbers established in 2008 will remain in place.

“We need more precise, annual bay-wide recreational blue crab harvest information in order to better manage this fishery,” explained Tom O’Connell, Maryland Fisheries Service Director. “By requiring that all recreational crabbers are either licensed or registered, we can increase the accuracy of our survey and more reliably obtain the information our biologists need.”

The current abundance of adult or reproductive-age blue crabs is 120 million crabs, only slightly above the established minimum safe threshold of 86 million reproductive-age crabs, is 70 percent lower than 1990 levels and well below the conservation target of 200 million crabs.

“Protecting female blue crabs offers the best opportunity for the quickest recovery,” continued Griffin. “We will continue to work with scientists, recreational crabbers, the commercial crab industry, conservationists, and local businesses to ensure a sustainable future for our blue crabs so that the species can continue to fulfill its ecological role within the Bay while also supporting the local economies that rely upon it.”

The proposed regulations will be published in the Maryland Register on Jan. 16, 2009. DNR will hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations at 6 p.m. on Jan. 27 in the Queen Anne County Public Library - Kent Island Branch’s meeting room. Sign language interpreters and other appropriate accommodations for individuals will be provided upon request. Public comments may also be submitted via mail to Sarah Widman, Fisheries Service, B-2, Tawes State Office Building, 580 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis, Md. 21401, by calling 410-260-8260, by faxing to 410-260-8278 or emailing to fisheriespubliccomment (at) dnr.state.md.us.

Maryland’s blue crab season runs from April 1 to Dec. 15.

For more information about Maryland’s efforts to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population and historic blue crab harvest data, visit http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/dnrnews/infocus/blue_crab.asp .

A detailed summary of the proposed regulations is at
http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/regulations/proposedregulations.html .

Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

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