Maryland in December proposed setting daily limits on female crab harvests and closing the commercial harvest periodically throughout the season next year with the goal of reviving the Chesapeake Bay's damaged crab population.
The proposed regulations by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources would 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.
The regulations, designed to help rebuild the struggling blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay, aim to reduce the female blue crab harvest by 34 percent. The state also hopes to ensure that no more than 46 percent of the blue crab population is harvested each year.
The season runs from April to December.
Recreational crabbers would have to register for a license for the first time, and the 2008 prohibition on harvesting female hard crabs would continue under the proposal.
Officials would also temporarily freeze limited commercial crabbing licenses that weren't used from 2004 to 2008.
"We worked with watermen and other interested groups throughout the summer and fall of 2008 to develop next year's regulations," DNR Secretary John Griffin said in a statement.
Larry Simns, head of the Maryland Watermens Association, said the regulations are "going to hit everyone on the whole entire Bay a little bit." But he said the proposal is better than regulations instituted last year that were harder on watermen in certain parts of the Bay.
"It spreads the pain out," Simns said. "That's what we wanted, and it's more fair for everybody. Everybody's paying a little bit."
The Bay's blue crab stock is down about 65 percent since 1990 because of overfishing and water pollution, according to Virginia and Maryland fisheries managers.
Last spring, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine jointly announced that they would slash the harvest of female crabs 34 percent to give them a better chance to survive and reproduce with the intention of rebuilding the population.
The Maryland regulations will be published in the Maryland Register on Jan. 16. Then, there will be a public comment period ending Feb. 17.
The DNR is planning to make the regulations effective March 23.
Female blue crab daily catch limits will be set by public notice after the DNR receives results of the winter dredge survey in April. 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, the DNR may consider liberalizing commercial bushel limits and season dates.
But if the survey indicates a continued population decrease, further harvest restrictions could occur.