As a precautionary measure, state officials have implemented a new rule for crabbing season this year: “No harvest of female hard crabs after November 20, 2017.”
The change comes a day after the release of the latest Blue Crab Advisory Report, which revealed an 18-percent decline in the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population from last year. The drop – from 553 million crabs in 2016 to 455 million this year – was attributed largely to a startling 54 percent plunge in the number of juvenile crabs. The tally of spawning-age female crabs actually increased 30 percent from last year – but alas.
The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, which produces the findings in the annual report, recommended the crabbing industry tone down on its harvesting in the fall to let more of the young crustaceans reach maturity, so they can spawn thereafter.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources was paying attention. Today, the agency announced it’s making some “modest but important changes” for the remainder of the season, which began April 1. Whereas the state last year extended its crabbing season by 20 days, bringing the end up to Nov. 30, the state this year is halting commercial harvesting on Nov. 20.
“Since the release of the winter dredge survey, experts have cautioned that a scarcity of juvenile crabs could result in more challenging harvest conditions later this year and next,” Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said in a statement. “This decision is the result of partners in science and industry developing consensus to achieve what is best for the health and ongoing productivity of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery.
One other change: the number of female crab bushels that licensed crabbers can catch will be reduced from year-before levels.
The notice with the state’s changes is available here.
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