The article, "Scientists considering merits of rights-based blue crab fishery," (November, 2008) recommended discussion as the next step. Allow me to present three principles with discussion:

  • Small, independent watermen must be the goal.
  • Watermen, not government, should establish the quota.
  • Independent scientists should annually publish a five-year blue crab economic forecast with commentary on past and future recommended quotas.

The article explained a process in which Maryland and Virginia would give commercial crabbers permanent licenses, which are owned just like owning land. Each license would allow a defined quota of crabs to be harvested, which in my opinion should be determined by vote each year, one vote per license holder (i.e., the watermen).

I trust the watermen and here is why. As watermen get closer to retirement, the resale value of their license will be more important than one year's catch. If your profit this year is $5,000 then the five-year value is $25,000, which someone might be willing to pay for one's license.

If you vote for lower quotas as you approach retirement and the crab population increases, the resale value of your license might instead be $40,000. If young watermen vote wisely over the next 15 years, a small crabber may be able to routinely earn a profit of $30,000 or more annually, potentially making the resale value of the license $150,000.

Crabbers own their licenses, run their businesses and vote for their future. The right decisions will be made in that situation.

Removing Annapolis and Richmond from the harvest decision will allow scientists to become honest advisers to watermen. I fully expect watermen will stray too far from wisdom, and scientists will say "told you so." The reason I trust watermen is because unlike bureaucracies, once watermen realize they strayed too far, they will quickly take corrective action. Their future-young and old-will depend upon it.

Who gets the licenses? I propose everyone who has registered for a license in the last seven years.

I see no harm in allowing retired watermen to receive licenses and sell them for some cash, they probably need the money. If someone registered all seven years and depending how many crabs they harvested, they would receive additional licenses. Everyone, except those that received more than one license, could also enter a lottery.

No person or company should be able to own or control more than one out of 500 licenses, thus we will always have at least 500 independent license holders. Allowing up to 10 percent ownership, for example, would kill the small guy, and potentially concentrate power in just 10 persons.

What about enforcement? For starters, cheaters will be cheating fellow watermen. A punch in the mouth from a fellow waterman will make that point clear.

For a tracking system, each license holder would receive a plastic card for each license owned. If a card is lost, the state will mail a new one and cancel the old one.

The card would be designed to be used with a credit card machine, but would not involve any transfer of money. When the card is swiped through a machine, a signal tells that state when, where and how many bushels were sold. All of the information would be posted on a website. If I see you selling crabs, but the website has no record of the fact, you are busted.

What about flexibility? If you hurt yourself, your friend can harvest crabs with your card. If you decide to stay off the water for a year, you can rent out your card just like renting land to a farmer. You can give the card to your daughter, sell it on eBay, or mail it to me!

If the card is in your name, you would be the one that votes each year. If you sell or give your card away, you would need to let the state know so that person would then be the one who votes.

In summary, using permanent licenses makes a lot of sense. My goal is to protect small, independent watermen by allowing them to determine the harvest limits with an advisory role for scientists, while providing flexibility.