Maryland Proposes Regulations to Rebuild Blue Crab Population

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ANNAPOLIS, MD– Today, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed new recreational and commercial harvest regulations to help rebuild the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population and fishery. The proposed regulations are designed to reduce female blue crab harvest by 34 percent in 2008.

“We must take action today to ensure that Maryland’s iconic blue crab and the economy it supports continue to be important parts of our culture for generations to come,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “The historic cooperation and coordination between Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission has created an unparalleled opportunity to protect and restore our shared blue crab resource.  By working together, we will protect the most biologically important blue crabs from the beginning of their migration until they spawn in late spring and summer.”

The proposed emergency regulations for the 2008 Chesapeake Bay commercial blue crab fishery include an early closure to the season for harvesting female crabs and catch limits on female crabs earlier in the fall.  DNR’s preferred regulatory option being introduced as an emergency regulatory package today, would close commercial harvest of female crabs on October 23 and impose individualized catch limits effective September 1 based on a waterman’s recent annual average reported female blue crab harvest.  The proposed emergency regulations for the 2008 Chesapeake Bay recreational fishery prohibit any female blue crab harvest. 

“Protecting female blue crabs by reducing recreational and commercial harvests represents the best opportunity for the quickest rebound,” said DNR Secretary John R. 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 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.  Since 2001, Maryland and Virginia have shared a conservation goal of limiting annual blue crab harvest to no more than 46 percent of the species population.  Scientists estimate that more than 60 percent of the Bay’s adult crab population was harvested last year.  In Maryland, the 2007 commercial blue crab harvest of approximately 21.8 million pounds was one of the lowest recorded since 1945.

Governor O’Malley has committed to working closely with Maryland’s blue crab industry to develop mitigation options for the potential short term economic impacts resulting from the proposed regulations.  The fiscal year 2009 capital budget for DNR included $3 million for habitat restoration projects, seafood processing industry grants and aquaculture development.

More than 500 individual comments have been submitted on blue crab management to the DNR since it initiated a public comment process in February.  DNR’s public comment process thus far has included nine public and Sport and Tidal Fish Advisory Commissions meetings and an on-going online comment process.  The proposed draft regulations will be reviewed by the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review.  The proposed regulations will be published in the Maryland Register on May 23, 2008.

DNR will hold two public hearings on the regulatory proposal – one on May 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Governor’s Hall at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge, and one on June 4 at 7 p.m. at Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis.  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, Maryland 21401, by calling 410-260-8260, by faxing to 410-260-8278 or emailing to fisheriespubliccomment [at] dnr [dot] state [dot] md [dot] us

A variety of factors including over-fishing, poor water quality, loss of habitat such as submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster reefs, and changing climatic conditions have contributed to the decline of the Bay’s blue crab population.  Reducing female blue crab harvest is one of many actions taken by the O’Malley Administration to help restore the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.  Recent successes include strengthening the Critical Area Law to protect the most sensitive and significant shoreline habitats; securing an additional $25 million annually for Bay restoration efforts through the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund; and implementing the BayStat Initiative to track progress and more effectively target our efforts.