Maryland has enacted new blue crab regulations, including a shorter season and requiring fishermen to take one day off a week, which officials say will help protect the Bay's most valuable species from overfishing.

"These regulations are a conservative response to concerns raised by a number of studies, as well as changes in fishing practices," said Maryland Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. "They will provide protection for the crab fishery with as little impact on recreational and commercial crabbers as possible."

The regulations were enacted June 17 and the changes incorporate concerns raised during seven public hearings conducted earlier this year. They are intended to complement regulations recently enacted in Virginia to help better manage the species throughout the Bay.

Maryland and Virginia officials and representatives from industry groups are meeting in a special panel coordinated by the Chesapeake Bay Commission - itself a panel representing the legislatures of the Bay states - to find further ways to manage the species Baywide.

The move to enact new restrictions began last year when several surveys indicated that blue crab abundance in the Bay has declined in recent years. Many fisheries officials had expressed concern that action was needed to protect the crab as fishing pressure has been steadily increaseing in recent years.

The status of the blue crab is unclear, though. A Baywide review of the population conducted last year for the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee indicated that recent declines were actually a return to normal population levels after a period of unusually high blue crab abundance in the 1980s.

Also, the annual blue crab winter dredge survey this year - after trending downward for years - rebounded, showing that the number of juvenile blue crabs in the Bay were at their highest level since the survey began in 1990.[See "Crab index rises sharply, reflects successful spawn," June 1996 Bay Journal.]

The survey results will likely have little impact on this year's harvest, but could be good news for 1997, when most of this year's juveniles will have reached market size.

This year's crab season was off to a slow start, and in late June, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening offered temporary medical and food stamps services to crabbers enduring a slow season in Maryland. He said the crab season was slow to start because of the harsh winter weather and additional fresh water flowing into the Bay, which killed many crabs. An improvement is expected this summer as water temperatures warm up.

New Crab Regulations

  • Shorten the season, which will now run from April 1 to Nov. 30, instead of through the end of December.
  • Restrict recreational crabbers using collapsible traps, crab net rings and trotlines from crabbing on Wednesdays.
  • Allow recreational crabbers using handlines, dip nets and crab pots set at private piers to crab seven days a week.
  • Require commercial crabbers to take off either Sundays or Mondays. Commercial crabbers will be required to affix the first three-letter abbreviations of their selected day off (either SUN or MON) on the port side of their vessel near the stern so it is visible from other vessels.
  • Exempt both recreational and commercial crabbers from taking a day off if the selected day falls on a holiday or the day preceding a holiday;
  • Require no cull rings in peeler pots, but these pots may only be baited with live male crabs and food for those crabs.
  • Require two, different-sized cull rings in hard crab pots, one at least 2 3/16 inches and the other at least 2 5/16 inches. The cull rings allow under-size crabs to escape.
  • Change the minimum mesh size for hard crab pots from 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches. Crab pots with 2-inch by 2-inch wire mesh will not be required to have cull rings.
  • Ban the importation of dark-colored sponge crabs, which are within two weeks of releasing their eggs, into Maryland for sale purposes.