With scientists debating the health of the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab stocks, Maryland officials last night outlined plans to impose new catch restrictions this year, including limiting commercial and sports crabbers to six days a week and shortening the crab season.
The proposed crabbing regulations, presented to a Department
of Natural Resources advisory committee, are similar to but milder than emergency restrictions imposed in the fall. Those limits angered watermen, sports crabbers and seafood processors alike.
Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin argued that "a little belt-tightening" still is needed to stabilize the bay's most important fishery, even though a new federal study indicates the bay's crab stock is in good shape.
He won grudging acceptance of some new limits from most members of the panel, which includes watermen, sports
fishermen, industry officials and environmentalists. But others objected to any new catch restrictions, contending they are not needed and would hurt them financially.
Mr. Griffin said he would soon propose new regulations for the crab season, which begins April 1, after consulting with his staff and with Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Among the restrictions likely to be proposed are:
* Limiting commercial and recreational crabbing to six days a week, with crabbers able to choose which day to be idle. In the fall, commercial watermen were required to take Sunday or Monday off, while sports crabbing was reduced from seven days a week to three.
* Requiring changes in crab pots and traps to allow more small, young crabs to escape.
* Closing the crab season Nov. 30, four weeks early. Crabbing traditionally has been allowed April 1 to Dec. 31, but in the fall the state ended it six weeks early, on Nov. 15.
* Barring the importation for sale of pregnant crabs about to spawn. It is already illegal to harvest pregnant females, or sponge crabs, in Maryland but not in Virginia.
nTC In a related development, many recreational crabbers would be required to purchase a license in 1997 under a bill introduced yesterday by Maryland legislators on the Chesapeake Bay Commission. Some people, including children and military personnel, would be exempt from the license requirement.
The DNR plan outlined last night also proposed restricting commercial crabbers to a 10- or 12-hour workday and limiting their catch in April and May to 51 bushels a day. But Mr. Griffin indicated he would drop those after watermen and industry officials objected.
Watermen complained bitterly in the fall about emergency restrictions imposed by the governor, especially a reduction in their workday to eight hours.
Several watermen and industry officials objected last night to any new restrictions, saying the state was going "overboard" in the face of a new study coordinated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that shows the bay's crab stocks are not being overfished.
"We're very fearful that this is going a little too far," said Carol Haltaman, president of Handy Soft Crab Co. in Crisfield.
But Mr. Griffin noted that the NOAA study findings are disputed by some scientists, and he argued that some new limits are needed.