Why not a state buy-back for crabbing licenses?
Having grown up on the Lower Bay, I’ve seen the number of crabs decline dramatically without a decrease in fishing pressure—the number of crab pots I see in the river has actually increased! When I was a kid, I would see the watermen pulling pots routinely with 15–20 crabs. Now they average about five.
What’s the best way to help the Bay’s crab population recover and at the same time keep the waterman’s lifestyle of hard work and independence intact? Attempts to restrict where and when waterman can work has had little effect while, naturally, alienating crabbers against the regulatory/scientific community trying to reduce fishing pressure.
Why not a system that reduces the number of commercial crabbing licenses through a buy-back from the state? Anyone holding a license would have the option of selling it to the state—for a pre-determined reasonable price—or passing it on to an immediate family member.
Licenses held by the state would be sold only when crab levels were deemed able to support the increased harvest pressure.
In this way, families with a tradition of crabbing could continue doing so while the total number of watermen, and hence fishing pressure, was being reduced by the state.
Combined with limiting the number of pots per license—which is already done—fishing pressure would be reduced over time without disrupting the way of life that is part of the Chespeake Bay.
Maybe it’s time we actually did something to manage fishing pressure without trying to burden the waterman with regulations on where and when he can work. Has anyone ever considered this?