The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has released new crabbing rules for 2008. In response to comments received on their original proposals, these rules are somewhat less restrictive. They still could have a significant impact on Maryland watermen, particularly those on the Lower Shore.
There are three main elements to the proposed new regulations:
- A ban on taking female crabs (except for peelers) by recreational crabbers,
- A ban on harvesting female crabs after October 23, and
- limits on the quantities of females that commercial watermen may harvest during September and October.
The goal has been to reduce the harvest of female crabs by around 30 percent to allow more females to reproduce. By September and October, most females have reached maturity and mated and are headed for the lower Bay to spawn. Female crabs can account for 80 - 100 percent of the harvest in October and November by watermen in Dorchester and Somerset counties. The proposed restrictions will have a significant impact on these watermen.
Of course, the Maryland regulations will have no impact unless Virginia also adopts strict regulations. The blue crab, perversely, has no respect for state lines. It will do no good to keep the Smith Islander from catching the crab in Maryland if the Tangierman scoops it up as it crosses the state line into Virginia as it migrates south.
Of course, the impact of these restrictions falls primarily on the commercial watermen. Some would like to blame them for overharvesting the crabs for the past several years. But the reality is that the declining water quality in the Bay is having a significant impact on the crabs and other species. Decreasing water clarity and higher water temperatures reduce the amount of submerged aquatic vegetation that is so important to the young crabs. Excess nutrients flowing into the Bay trigger algae blooms that then decay, depleting oxygen levels to a point that marine life cannot survive.
But no new restrictions on polluting the Bay were announced along with the crab harvest restrictions. The watermen are a small group with little political clout and who mostly live on the Eastern Shore. The Republicans they elect to represent them in Annapolis are vastly outnumbered by Democrats from the Western Shore and have little influence.
Better to cause a little pain to the watermen than to risk offending those who are responsible for polluting the Bay. Because requiring people to cut back on the artificial fertilizer they dump on their bright green lawns or to do something about the runoff from their houses, driveways, sidewalks and streets that carries excess nutrients and pollutants into the Bay might be bad politics.
We have this myth that we can help the Bay by placing all sorts of restrictions on new development - by requiring denser development in existing developed areas or by requiring better handling of storm water. But it's those of us that are already here that have polluted the Bay so much already. We need to address the fact that it's us that are polluting the Bay. Then fix it.