Time for moratorium on harvest, sale of female crabs

The Baltimore Sun

The harvesting of female crabs is something I could never understand. When I was growing up in Baltimore in the 1950s, it was considered taboo to eat a female crab.

What happened? Were we so shortsighted as to ignore the obvious: that increasing our harvest quotas would eventually kill the crabbing industry?

Working in the Middle River area, I have seen many of my clients get out of the crabbing business, selling their boats and looking elsewhere for income. The same fate earlier befell our oystermen.

The reductions proposed by Maryland officials simply don't go far enough. Does the Department of Natural Resources understand simple supply and demand? The rockfish moratorium worked well; we should not wait for a total devastation of the current gene pool of shellfish before the next obvious step is taken.

Yes, the price of crabs will go up if we ban harvesting or selling female crabs in Maryland. But if we can salvage one of our state's iconic industries in the process, it's a price worth paying. Assuming Virginia can be brought on board, the two states should institute a moratorium on harvesting female crabs - until the population recovers.

Going back to greener methods of harvesting crustaceans with bugeyes and log canoes would cut back on the number of crabs harvested each day and would also reduce pollution from diesel emissions.

Some crab processors are importing crab meat from Asia. But how long can that population sustain the current harvest? Is the solution to preserving a species really to replace it with a weaker, chemically enhanced version?

Similar issues faced the state's mascot, the diamondback terrapin, which was almost obliterated in the early 20th century; it survived only by virtue of the economic crash of 1929, which shut down the market for terrapin meat. Today, it once again faces the danger of extinction because of the demand for terrapin meat among Asians, where it is used in traditional medicines. (I served on the 2001 Governor's Terrapin Task Force in Maryland.)

As for raising baby crabs, as suggested in a recent Sun article, we are courting the same risks we have encountered with the farming of salmon, prawns and oysters: contaminating the meat with hormones and chemicals, threatening the natural gene pool with contamination by a weaker species and eventually devastating the industry and environment.

The secret to bringing back shellfish populations and preventing disaster is abstinence. The resurgence of the rockfish population has proved that method of conservation works. For those of us who love the bay and its creatures, a crabbing moratorium is the fastest, most efficient way to accomplish this, with the least negative impact on the Chesapeake - our greatest resource.

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