To Avert Disaster, Let Crab Rules Work
We made the mistake last week of dispatching two friends who had stopped briefly in Washington on business to an urban crab house. They avoided the $60-a-dozen platter, but what they ended up with were puny, mushy and cold.
We may never live that one down.
Crab fare is better in Chesapeake Country, but its far from great - apparent both in the scarcity for crabbers and in the costly juniors that end up on butcher block paper.
The hard-crab catch is down nearly one-third from this time in 00 and lower than the average over the past eight years, the Department of Natural Resources reported last week. Even in Annapolis, bushels of Number Ones were going for as high as $200, the Agriculture Department reported after a spot check.
If things seem out of whack to you, youre right. Yet an ardent group of watermen based in Crisfield has continued to attack new crab restrictions and the fellow watermen and conservationists who support them.
We think that retired judge J. Owen Wise ruled correctly last week in rejecting the strident claims by the Eastern Shore watermen and their pals in the processing plants who contend that the new rules arent scientifically sound and are, therefore, unnecessary.
Striking down the new rules, the judge said, risked the imminent loss of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab as a fishery.
The new rules are the first installment in an effort to reduce the crab catch by 15 percent over the next three years. Among the changes, watermen are prohibited from working any longer than eight hours and will be forced to haul up their pots at the end of October instead of crabbing another month.
The restrictions are, as they say in labor talk, a dislocation for on-the-water workers suffering from a slow decline that they cant control. Whats more, watermen are squeezed by gas and diesel prices that might be 50 percent higher than a year ago and buffeted by a brutal market that includes more Gulf Coast crabs than ever before.
So we can see why the new rules are unpopular - even though we believe they are warranted.
The evidence is more than anecdotes about pricy, inedible crabs. The scientists who have been monitoring the Bay annually have presented incontrovertible data showing that crabs are fewer and smaller and that the population of females has plunged to an all-time low.
These are warning signs that are not to be overlooked. To do so would jeopardize more than the incomes of the 6,000 licensed crabbers. As Judge Wise noted in an observation that lived up to his name, the loss of crabs in the Bay would affect us all.