Those trying to celebrate what is traditionally considered an annual rite of summer — catching crabs to feast on — are reminded that those tasty critters typically can be found in the same waters as the state's reptile, the diamondback terrapin.
That's why officials from the Department of Natural Resources and the National Aquarium are asking recreation crab pot owners to include turtle excluders in their pots. Without the excluders, the equipment can accidentally trap and drown the diamondbacks.
"Putting turtle excluders in a crab pot is easy, inexpensive and every recreational crabber's responsibility," DNR secretary John Griffin said in a news release Thursday. "A properly equipped crab pot will catch crabs very efficiently without killing these terrific little turtles."
A turtle excluder, or Bycatch Reduction Device, keeps the larger-shelled terrapins out with the help of a gate. According to the DNR, noncommercial crab pot owners are required by law to have turtle excluders installed in each funnel entrance. Each pot also is required to be marked with the owner's name and address.
Two crab pots are allowed on each waterfront property as long as they are legally set in tributaries where the terrapins live. Commercial watermen can set them in deeper waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
Diamondback terrapins are not yet endangered as sea turtles are but have suffered over the years from a decline in water quality and loss of habitat.
"As denizens of the Chesapeake's beaches and shorelines, terrapins are particularly vulnerable to shoreline development and hardening," Jack Cover, National Aquarium curator, said in the DNR release. "People who live on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's coastal bays have the special privilege of setting crab pots. But with that comes the responsibility to take the simple steps to make their pots turtle-friendly. Nobody wants to find a drowned diamondback terrapin in their crab pot."
Instructions for installing a BRD in a crab pot can be found at dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/pdfs/2010terrapinbrochure.pdf.
Officials ask anyone who owns a crab pot to remove it from the water when not using it because "untended crab pots can become death traps for crabs and other animals."
Those who fail to comply with the law may be fined and or have their pots seized.