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More crab limits win wary acceptance But some seafood dealers, watermen question need


The prospect of new crabbing restrictions this year drew wary acceptance from Maryland watermen and seafood dealers, though some insisted that the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab stocks are healthy and no further regulations are needed.

Department of Natural Resources officials told an advisory committee Wednesday night that they are considering limiting commercial and recreational crabbing to six days a week and shortening the season by as much as four weeks.

The new restrictions, likely to be proposed this month, are similar to but less stringent than emergency regulations imposed last fall when Gov. Parris N. Glendening warned of a "crisis brewing" in the bay's crab stocks.

DNR Secretary John R. Griffin told the committee -- made up of watermen, seafood dealers, sports fishermen and environmentalists -- that the limits likely to be proposed for the season beginning April 1 are milder because of complaints that last fall's restrictions went too far and because the crab outlook "now appears brighter."

A federally funded study recently concluded that the bay's crab stocks are still in good shape, though they have declined in recent years. DNR officials said that they still believe there are troubling signs of overfishing for crabs and that they want to make Maryland's regulations more consistent with those of neighboring Virginia.

"We don't think we need any more regulations," said Larry W. Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association. But he added later that "we know we've got to have something -- it keeps us from gambling."

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.

* 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.

Mr. Griffin had angered watermen recently by pledging to seek a reduction in how many crab pots, or wire-mesh traps, watermen are allowed to put in the bay. Current rules allow up to 900 pots per boat. Mr. Griffin told the panel he would postpone any action on pots to review it more with the industry.

Andrew Tolley, president of Toddville Seafoods Inc. in Dorchester County, yesterday called the DNR plan "actually reasonable." He said he has long favored reducing the commercial crabbers' work week by one day.

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