"Some Maryland watermen hope for new rules to strengthen their crab harvest

By Scott Dance March 27

Joel Hayden’s investment, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of yellow-painted wire cages, is spread across his lawn in neat stacks. Just beyond the water’s edge, his paycheck is burrowed in the mud.

It’s the eve of blue crab season for watermen like the 28-year-old Hoopers Island native, and he is sparing no expense to prepare. After all, here at the southern edge of Maryland’s share of the Chesapeake Bay, there is only a short springtime window before the biggest crabs head north to fresher waters.

Next month, Hayden will begin scattering hundreds of the handmade crab pots around nearby creeks. If there are as many of the blue-legged crustaceans as watermen and scientists expect, it will be a busy start to the season.

A decade ago, the bay’s blue crab population was on the brink of collapsing when Maryland and Virginia agreed to dramatically reduce the harvest of young and female crabs. Biologists credit the rules with helping the crab population rebound and stabilize, and mild weather this winter portends a third-straight year of gains in crab numbers.

But the rules could become a victim of their own success.

Officials in Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration said this month that they are willing to consider changes to the harvest limits if crab population growth remains strong, just as they are exploring opening some prosperous oyster sanctuaries to harvest.

For years, watermen from the lower Eastern Shore have begged state officials to ease crab-catch limits. They are hoping changes may be coming from an administration that recently fired a veteran crab scientist and pledged a “customer service”-oriented approach to fishery management......"

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