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Rain helps enforce new crabbing restrictions Limits went into effect Friday to protect stocks


The first weekend of crabbing under strict new limits in Maryland apparently passed with few incidents, as yesterday morning's rain kept most recreational boaters off the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland Natural Resources Police officials reported little trouble with enforcing the state's new crabbing restrictions, which took effect Friday in a bid to conserve the bay's dwindling stock of female crabs.

But resentment simmered among watermen, and at least one yesterday said the new limits were backfiring, prompting him to catch more female crabs rather than fewer.

"I've never been a hunter of females," said Daniel Beck, president of the Baltimore County Watermen's Association. "But you rest assured, they fill my pots and I'm going to sell them."

One Natural Resources Police officer patrolling Anne Arundel County's waterfront by boat found a lone recreational crabber near Sandy Point at 6:30 a.m. -- a half-hour before the starting time under the new restrictions, said John Surrick, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.

The crabber was required to return his catch to the water after getting a warning from the officer, Mr. Surrick said.

"Apparently the word's gotten out very well," said Natural Resources Police Sgt. Dan Hughes, who oversees the upper bay bounded by Cecil and Harford counties.

Natural Resources Police had planned to mobilize most of their 200 field personnel over the weekend to patrol the bay and get the word out about the new crabbing restrictions.

First-time violators could be fined up to $500 and repeat offenders face a maximum $1,000 fine and six months in jail. But Capt. Tammy Broll, a department spokeswoman, said officers plan to begin by issuing warnings and explaining the new rules, especially to recreational crabbers who may come from out of state.

The limits, aimed at averting depletion of the Chesapeake Bay's most important seafood, bar commercial crabbing one day a week and reduce the permitted time for crabbing 4 1/2 to six hours the rest of the week.

The restrictions are geared toward reducing by 20 percent the catch of female crabs, which have been declining the past few years even as harvest of females has soared.

But Mr. Beck said the new time restrictions, which limit him to harvesting from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., prevent him from moving his crab pots to catch more male crabs and avoid females.

Male crabs, which generally bring better prices at the market, move around more, Mr. Beck explained. On the first two days under the restricted hours, he said his daily catch of female crabs has multiplied from 10 bushels to around 40 bushels.

Recreational crabbing is banned statewide today through Thursday, and commercial watermen who use crab pots may not work today above the Bay Bridge.

But in an unpublicized wrinkle to the new restrictions, watermen who catch crabs with trotlines may work today in the bay's river tributaries north of the Bay Bridge.

Trotline crabbers, who net crabs from baited lines, were barred from working yesterday to avoid potential conflicts with recreational crabbers in the bay's rivers.

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