(The Center Square) – With an eye trained on conservation, Maryland’s commercial crabbers won’t be harvesting as many male blue crabs through the rest of the year as in years past.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with blue-crab advisory groups, announced in a public notice that watermen crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay, and its tidal tributaries including the Potomac River, will be limited during certain months.

Maryland blue crabs are one of the prime catches in the Chesapeake Bay. Credit: Dee Dalasio / Shutterstock.com

Bill Sieling, executive vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, said for the crabbers it’s not going to be good or necessarily all that bad.

“They’re going to be allowed to catch fewer crabs,” he told The Center Square. “But, on the other hand, they may not have caught as many crabs as they could’ve legally caught under the old system anyway.”

Under the notice, there are no catch limits for July and October, and November. Plus, no crabs are to be harvested from Dec. 1-15.

The limits, according to the notice, are set following the results of the winter crab dredge survey that is conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, in conjunction with advisory groups and stakeholders.

For the months of August and September, commercial watermen with limited crab harvester licenses are permitted four bushes and two lugs per day, while those with unlimited tidal fish licenses or a crab harvester license 300 pots are permitted eight bushels and two lugs.

Watermen with unlimited tidal fish licenses with a 600 pot authorization license, or a 300 pot authorization license combined with a 600 pot authorization license, are permitted 12 bushels and eight lugs per day. Watermen with unlimited tidal fish licenses with a 900 pot authorization license or a 300 pot authorization license combined with a 900 pot authorization license are limited to 15 bushels and 10 lugs per day.

The crab dredge survey is a compilation of analysis of data that is collected during the winter months that determine the number, size, and sex of blue crabs in various locations.

This year, however, Sieling says the numbers from the survey were determined to be inadequate after fishermen actually got out on the water and started looking for crabs.

The blue crab population isn’t in a dangerous decline, Sieling pointed out.

“There’s one very critical level that is very important,” he said. “In this algorithm used to measure the volume of crabs and sexes and all that stuff, there is a limit below which if the spawning age females go below that then it is considered in the red – you’re below the optimal level for the crabs to reproduce themselves. If it’s above that line, then you don’t have to worry.”

There is no need to panic, he added, stating the limit is merely very conservative management by the state.

One real concern facing the bay’s crabs, however, is the blue catfish, according to Sieling. Introduced in Virginia in the 1970s, blue catfish can grow enormously and eat pretty much everything, he said, calling them a “marine vacuum cleaner.”

Internal examinations of these catfish have revealed they consume massive amounts of small blue crabs, according to Sieling.

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