by C.D. Dollar
Crab Numbers Holding But Still Too Low
I balked a bit at the $4-a-crab price for the Chester River soft crabs, but like I told Ms. Sandy behind the counter at my local seafood market while I forked over the cash, they were simply too pretty to pass up. Once sautéed, they tasted just as good. Besides, peopleve got to earn a living, and the days of $1 or less soft crabs are long gone.
For decades, crabs and summer have been synonymous with the Chesapeake. Theyre a favorite food for visitors and residents alike, fun recreational pursuit for chicken-neckers and the last viable fishery for the remaining watermen plying Bay waters for a living.
In May, the Chesapeake produced one of the best peeler runs in memory, despite dwindling crab habitat (underwater grasses crashed by 30 percent last year) and a steady stream of pollution. Due mainly to ideal climatic conditions an abnormally warm May the peeler run was a timely windfall for watermen targeting this prized delicacy. After four straight years of poor crab harvests and Hurricane Isabels toll, tts good that some folks made early money, though it could mean fewer crabs later in the season.
Crabbers and crab eaters suffered last year as the Bay-wide harvest topped out at only 48 million pounds, well below the annual, long-term average of 73 million pounds. This years strong spring harvest shouldnt be taken as a signal that crabs have increased. Overall, the Chesapeakes blue crab population remains woefully below the long-term average, according to the annual report release by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee.
Based on four independent surveys, the report says the Bays crabs made modest gains last year but warned that the overall health of the population warrants continued concern. Crab experts are cautioning Bay fisheries managers to stay the course and maintain conservation measures and catch restrictions that promote the long-term sustainability of blue crabs.
There are signs that actions taken by Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission in 2001 to reduce harvest pressure are paying dividends. But one year of holding the line isnt nearly good enough. To return crabs to a stable, healthy population with economical, recreational and ecological benefits requires a coordinated, Bay-wide approach to comprehensive fisheries coupled with slowing pollution and improving underwater grasses.
Fish Are Biting
The summer fish have arrived in droves, providing reliable action and bountiful table fare. Tom from Anglers points to the Bay Bridge pilings and shell bottom off Hacketts and Sandy Point as reliable spots for bottom fishing for hardhead (croaker).
Alan, who serves as mate aboard the charterboat Compensation out of Rod n Reel, reports good numbers of legal rockfish ranging from 18 to 30 inches along the western side. Most of the fleet is trolling spoons and 7/0 bucktails (white and chartreuse) with sassy shad. No bluefish yet, but he did report that a nine-pound sea trout took a bucktail. Bottom fishing is getting better as big jumbo spot are hitting near No. 10 Buoy and the Diamonds.
In Solomons, Ricky of Bunkys Charters tells me that croaker and spot are plentiful at the mouth of the Patuxent River in 20 to 40 feet of water. Work squid and bloodworms over shell bottom for best success. He says rockfishing has slowed way down, with not a whole lot of chatter about bluefish or seatrout.
Offshore, season is underway with football-size bluefin tuna and a few up to 70 pounds taking trolled baits at Jackspot and Hambone. There are still a few mako sharks around, too. At the Washington Canyon, you can try for decent-sized yellowfin tuna.