This weekend I was able to visit with a lifetime crabber and discuss the upcoming proposals in VA. He's headed to the meeting Tuesday when they should find out what VA plans on doing to help recover the bay. He pointed out that in his lifetime, he has seen the number of crabbers in Tangier go from over 100 to less than 25. He estimates that a similar drop in commercial crabbers has occurred on the mainland side. He pointed out that the state shouldn't be pointing the finger at commercial fishermen as the source of the problem for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. We talked about the '60s and the '70s, when bluefish were the king of the bay. As the rockfish/striped bass population increased through the '90s and through today, the blue crab population gradually dwindled. This year is again starting off slowly. Being here, in an area that also enjoys an active sport fishery for rockfish, there is definite resistance to any talk of competition.
I go back to all the articles pointing out the reduction in bottom grasses in the bay. Without these important ecosystem anchors, juvenile crabs don't have anywhere to hide, making them ideal targets for larger sport fish. Opportunistic feeding would quickly diminish the young stock that is vital to replenishment of the species.
The state is proposing several ways to reduce the catch of spawning female crabs. Whereas I see the benefit in doing this now as part of an overall solution, without fixing the grass coverage, the benefit is going to be limited. How long, or is it even possible to rebuild the stocks if the hiding places for juveniles is gone? If the grasses can be returned, how much faster would the stocks recover? These grasses would also benefit breeding other species. The surrounding states need to attempt to fix some of these root causes. Simply modifying the take of mature spawning females is like applying a bandaid to a puncture wound - it stops the bleeding, but without cleaning the wound, it's hit or miss as to how well it will heal.