New Blue Crab Limits Proposed Amid Dismal Winter Dredge Survey

By Cheryl Costello

When the Chesapeake Bay’s winter dredge survey results came in a month ago, it revealed the worst overall blue crab abundance in the survey’s history. Fishery managers in Maryland, Virginia, and the Potomac River hinted at possible season changes in response to the crab decline.

Maryland is now considering a first-ever bushel limit for commercial and recreational crabbers. And now’s the time to weigh in on the proposal.

With these potential changes looming, Bay Bulletin recentlyjoined a crabber for his morning’s work just over the Bay Bridge in Grasonville. Start time was 3:30 a.m.

With a full moon still shining, we traveled about a mile from Kent Island Yacht Club onto Prospect Bay with third-generation waterman Bobby Washington. He has more than 50 years on the water, so he knows where his line is despite the dark sky.

He spent at least a few hours attaching bait bags to the 4,800-foot line the night before our Monday morning run. While his line is weighed down, his mind is, too.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is floating potential blue crab management plans after crab numbers came in at a 32-year low.

“Years ago, you could crab in the area for two or three months,” remembers Washington. “But now each year is different because of the water quality. It’s the lack of oxygen.”

Michael Luisi, acting DNR Fishing and Boating Services Director, says unprecedented changes are likely. “Up until now, we never had limits on the amount of males a commercial crabber can catch … We are at the point now where we are considering—and we are likely to implement—bushel limits. Once you achieve a certain amount of male crabs, you have to stop for the day no matter how much time you have left.”

There had been talk about an in-season closure (similar to the rockfish closure in August) but that option is off the table. “We have no anticipated absolute closure of the crab fishery for the commercial fisherman, for males or females,” Luisi says.

But Washington says bushel limits will reduce their earning ability on top of the major challenge gas prices are already bringing. A full tank of gas on the boat costs him $95.

“With the price of the fuel now, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to impact us all … Last year I could have crabbed three or four days off that $95. This year, it’s every two days. That’s a big hurt.”

Washington’s crabs are sold to Harris Crab House. But the proposal also addresses the recreational catch. Bushel limits for recreational crabbers could be cut from two to one per day.

DNR is working closely with partners in Virginia and all parties have agreed to take certain approaches to reduce the harvest of crabs this year.

You can complete a survey through June 19 to specify your preferred conservation measure.

Meanwhile, Bobby Washington will be back out six days a week, hoping to feel the pinch from his crabs—not his livelihood.

“I like crabbing. If I had to do it again, I would.”