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Like crabs? Regional Rescue’s the
Way to Keep ’Em Comin’

The blue crab news out of Virginia this week was encouraging and hard to believe.

For decades, our neighbor to the south has taken a maddeningly selfish approach on Chesapeake Bay by allowing watermen to catch 70 percent of the female crabs and permitting the dredging of hibernating crabs in winter.

How’d you like to be snatched out of dreamland and hauled off to market?

But this week marked a new day in crab regulation in Virginia. We hope it also signals a new era of cooperative regulation.

Virginia pot crabbers opened their season under a new set of rules, including the requirement of escape hatches for small crabs and an increased size limit for peelers, crabs about to shed and sold as soft-shells.

That’s just the beginning.

Next week, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission will vote on a long-delayed plan to enforce crab sanctuaries. Soon after that, the commission will decide on still another proposal to limit by as much as 30 percent the number of crab pots that watermen may use.

Our response is twofold: Bravo — and it’s about time.

We — that would be Virginia and Maryland — have dallied so long that population studies warn that the Bay’s stock of callinectes sapidus is on the brink of collapse. In Maryland, this decade has brought two of the state’s smallest harvests in history, prompting Maryland officials to lecture Virginia about the need to work together.

Now that Virginia has acted, it’s Maryland’s turn. No longer can we simply blame Virginia and proceed with our half-a-loaf solutions — or no solutions at all.

Maryland watermen got a glimpse of the future from the Department of Natural Resources recently: New proposals, expected any day, could limit both bushels harvested and soft-crab production and impose a new maximum size on females. The new rules are expected to be ready by mid-April.

Although necessary, they could be hard to swallow for watermen squeezed by a tight economy and punished by cruel increases in gas and diesel prices. When watermen observe that crabs are in trouble because of pollution and shoreline development, not just overfishing, we should listen.

The fate of Maryland’s valuable crab industry should be a topic of discussion not just by regulators but also by the General Assembly, which is considering improvements in the state’s Critical Areas law that, over time, could help ease the pressure on the blue crabs.

While the immediate prognosis for crabs is grim, the decision by Maryland and Virginia to finally work together is promising.

A regional approach to fisheries management is the only solution.

Those beautiful swimmers that provide a livelihood for watermen and delectable dinners for all of us don’t belong to Virginia, and they don’t belong to Maryland. They belong to all of us, and we should act accordingly.

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