By MORGAN GIBSON
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – Maryland Natural Resources Police spent the winter cracking down on oyster violations and poaching problems, so with that season coming to a close, you think they’d get a breather.
But crabbing season, which begins April 1, is expected to be an even busier time.
Crabbing is a lot more popular than oysters. In turn, the number of crabbing crimes committed per year is about three times the number of oyster violations, said Sgt. Art Windemuth, public information officer for the Natural Resources Police.
There were about 140,000 oyster bushels harvested in Maryland in 2009, but almost 950,000 crab bushels.
There are 5,887 commercial crab licenses in Maryland, more than 10 times the number of commercial oyster licenses.
There are 48,500 recreational crab licenses — recreational oystermen aren’t even tracked.
The Maryland crab harvest makes up more than 50 percent of the annual U.S. catch.
It’s not just crabbing driving the law enforcement work load. Windemuth said it’s also boating season, parks and recreation season, as well as prime time for tidal and inland fishing.
The police’s nighttime anti-poaching patrols will “most definitely” still be going on, Windemuth said.
The Department of Natural Resources is also going to emphasize enforcement for both recreational and commercial blue crab fishing, said Brenda Davis, the department’s blue crab program manager.
The population of Maryland’s state crustacean has declined 70 percent since the early 1990s, and so for the past two years, crabbing has been restricted in an effort to reduce female crab harvesting and rebuild the overall blue crab population.
Last week, the department announced that regulations will continue for this season, including bushel limits for mature female hard crabs as well as a few closure periods for commercial female harvest throughout the season.
Commercial harvest for mature females will end Nov. 10, while commercial harvest for males won’t end till Dec. 15.
Also, recreational crabbers are prohibited from harvesting female hard crabs. Female soft crabs, may be kept.
The female bushel limits and closure periods are subject to change, however, based on the most recent winter crab dredge survey, which measures the amount of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay each year. The survey is available mid-April and is conducted by the Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.