Maryland Crabbers Caught Short In New Rules

audioListen to Van Williamson's report.

July 27, 2001 — Maryland's blue crab is considered a delicacy, shipped to many parts of the world, and served up in restaurants all over the Chesapeake Bay region. Last year, watermen brought over 20 million pounds of crabs to Maryland docks alone.

Blue crabs aboard Bob Evans' boat
Blue crabs aboard Bob Evans' boat.
Photo: Van Williamson, NPR

Though that seems like a lot, it is about 40 percent below the long-term average. Over-fishing, pollution and loss of habitat have taken their toll on the Bay's most resilient species, Morning Edition's Van Williamson reports.

That has scientists worried, and a lot of other people, too. So to ensure the health of the species for future generations of crab lovers, new harvesting restrictions have been imposed. As of this week, workdays have been cut to eight hours (from a maximum of 14) and the crabbers must keep their boats docked at least one day a week.

Chesapeake Bay map
The Chesapeake Bay

That's bad news for the state's estimated 2,000 working watermen, or for the ancillary businesses that depend on the blue crab -- everyone from truckers to packers.

Waterman like Bob Evans, who has been fishing for more than 30 years, have been forced to work harder "because we really haven't had the crabs to catch."

Even as some watermen have sued to stop the new rules, Maryland's governor has proposed ending the crabbing season one month early, at the end of October. Seafood processor Roy Todd says that would be disastrous for the crabbing industry because last year November was the most profitable month of the whole season.

Scientists say the new restrictions will be difficult for everyone, but they see them as the only way to ensure the blue crab's long-term survival.

Chesapeake Bay blue crab landings on the decline
The 2000 Chesapeake Bay blue crab harvest of 51 million pounds was well below the long-term average of about 75 million pounds.
Courtesy Chesapeake Bay Program, National Marine Fisheries Service

Resources

Chesapeake Bay Program. Blue crab information, including commercial harvest trends.

Maryland Watermen's Association. Information about the people who make a living on the Chesapeake, articles from the Waterman’s Gazette and related links.

Blue Crabs in the Chesapeake. The Maryland Sea Grant site, hosted by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, offers information about blue crabs, research and crab management.

Blue crab facts. From the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

New crab regulations. Rules effective, July 23, 2001, from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, on commercial crabbing in the Bay and other Maryland state waters.

Maryland DNR Fisheries Service. Features Life History and Management of Blue Crabs, an article by agency biologists.

Holland Island. NPR's coverage of one man's efforts to save Holland Island, once home to hundreds of watermen off Maryland's Eastern Shore in the Bay.