Governors recommend further restrictions on blue crab harvesting

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by Jessica Sabbath

The governors of Virginia and Maryland said Tuesday they will direct state agencies to further restrict the number of blue crabs that can be harvested in 2008.

“Blue crabs are a public trust resource owned by the citizens of Maryland and Virginia,” Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a joint statement. “The most immediate opportunity to rebuild the crab population is through a reduction in harvest pressure. Unfortunately, we cannot rebuild this fishery without some short-term economic impact to the industry.”

The governors said they will direct regulatory agencies to take measures to reduce the 2008 Chesapeake Bay blue crab harvest and create a sustainable fishery to boost the crab population. Scientists have suggested that the harvest of female crabs be restricted to 34 percent of its population in 2008, which would increase the crab population by an estimated 20 to 26 million female crabs.

Any crab restrictions are likely to meet opposition from crabbers whose livelihood depends on the annual harvest. The blue crab industry has an impact of $120 million to $200 million in communities across the Chesapeake Bay, according to the governor’s statement.

The blue crab population is down 70 percent from 1990 levels. The governors reviewed a report today that said in 2007, 60 percent of the crabs population was harvested last year — a record high amount. “The evidence is clear that our most valuable commercial fishery is in imminent danger — producing in 2007 one of the worst harvest years on record — and at risk for an economic collapse,” the governors said.

The states’ goal of removing only 46 percent of the crab population has been exceeded for all but two of the last 10 years, the governors said. In Virginia, the Marine Resources Commission is in charge of developing any regulations to protect the crab population.

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