Chesapeake Outdoors by C.D. Dollar

Vol. 8, No. 38
Sept. 21-27, 2000
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Crabs Trouble Calls for Thought — Not Panic

With blue crabs in trouble, now is not the time to panic.

As news of another dismal season for Chesapeake blue crabs spreads, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in Chesapeake Country who doesn't have an opinion about cause and solution. The commercial catch for July was one of the lowest on record, and as I travel the Bay, the number of commercial crab pots up on docks was both striking and disheartening. Many recreational crabbers I've spoken with say they can't remember a summer so devoid of the Bay's symbolic crustacean.

Clearly, decisive action is needed to stabilize the crab fishery and prevent further declines - and a potential crash, the fate suffered by shad, rockfish and oysters. Only the rockfish has recovered. Today, the blue crab fishery stands alone as the Chesapeake's largest and most valuable fishery, pumping hundreds millions of dollars into the Bay's coffers. Just as important as crabs are for the Bay's economy and culture are crabs in the food webs of the Chesapeake.

Myriad fish - eels, rockfish, croaker and catfish among them - eat post-larval and juvenile crabs. Atlantic Ridley sea turtles, an endangered species, migrate to the Bay every summer to feed on them. True omnivores, adult blue crabs feed on any food item they can find, such as fish and plants (dead and alive), bivalves, crustaceans and marine worms. Thin-shelled bivalves, like razor clams, may be the blue crab's favorite food, and they aren't above cannibalizing juvenile crabs, either.

So what is the solution? Several outdoor writers and editorial columnists have called for an immediate moratorium on harvesting this important resource, a sentiment echoed by citizens and in on-line chat rooms. But throughout these unscientific debates, I have heard little about reducing excessive nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus from poultry and hog operations, automobiles and lawn fertilizers, among other sources) and restoring underwater grasses. A flat end to crabbing - without stepped up habitat restoration and improvements in water quality - is a short-term fix.

As the fishery continued to show signs of weakness this summer, representatives of the Bi-State Blue Crab Commission, formed in 1996 to develop management strategies, stepped up its efforts to get a handle on crab health and set parameters to restore the fishery's viability. Those parameters include establishing a definition of overfishing and the developing stock biomass targets, which previously did not exist. The group will reveal its findings at its September 27 meeting in Annapolis, marking the beginning of a Baywide plan to developing a strategy for restoring a viable blue crab fishery to the Bay.

Hearings and on-line surveys requesting public input will follow in the months to come. So make your voice heard. The future of the Chesapeake's blue crab may depend upon it.

Fish are Biting

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources has confirmed that Bob Bruce's striped bass caught at Liberty Reservoir has been certified as the new Maryland freshwater record. The monster striper weighed 47 pounds 2 ounces and measured 49 inches long with a girth of 32 inches.

Offshore, Drew Koslow, a fisheries biologist with DNR and one of the leaders of the South River Federation – which has done some great work to restore shoreline buffers, oysters and underwater grasses in that important watershed – found success at Hot Dog Lump fishing with Capt. Mark Sampson. They caught yellowfin tuna in the 30- to 40-pound class as well as dolphin. Also, offshore anglers have taken wahoo at the Hambone, and Baltimore Canyon has also produced good catches of tuna. In the back bays, the quantity of flounder catch has fallen off, but the fish are hefty.

There are pods of breaking fish in many areas of the Bay, including the Point Lookout-Patuxent-Hoopers Island-Choptank River quadrant. Blues, Spanish mackerel and rockfish are busting the surface, taking soft plastics like Bass Assassins and metal spoons.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly