Bay scientists seek crab sanctuary

Published October 14, 2007
The Capital

BALTIMORE (AP) - Some bay scientists are looking to create a Maryland crab sanctuary that would make a large section of the bay off limits to crabbing at certain times of the year.

The Maryland sanctuary would protect a narrow section along the Eastern Shore that is a popular fall place to crab.

"If we don't protect all of the mated females on their migratory corridor, they won't have a chance to generate the next generation," said Yonathan Zohar, a University of Maryland marine biologist.

Virginia already has a sanctuary for female crabs as they spawn. Zohar has been discussing the sanctuary concept with Maryland regulators and other scientists, hoping to reach consensus on the issue.

A number of sanctuaries already exist to protect oysters. However, crabs move throughout the bay and some say a sanctuary will just redirect crabbers to other spots. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation proposed a sancturay 12 years ago, but the idea did not get much support because scientists couldn't be sure it would be effective.

"When you close an area to make a sanctuary, all those people don't just take their gear home. They go somewhere else," said Lynn Fegley, fishery operations director at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "I don't think a sanctuary is the answer for Maryland."

Earlier this month, Fegley told a group of watermen that the annual winter dredge survey found crabs were in danger of being overfished and asked them to work with the department to find viable management strategies.

Some Maryland scientists and watermen have questioned Virginia's sanctuary, noting restrictions are lifted in mid-September. Virginia also allows winter crabbing.

Robert O'Reilly, deputy chief of fisheries management for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, said Virginia's plan is "meant to increase the spawning stock. After Sept. 15th, the crabs are vulnerable to harvest, but they have already spawned."

(Revised Oct 2007)