Month: May 2014
What I’m reading this afternoon:
The Atlantic States Fisheries Commission is considering putting additional limitations on the catch of striped bass (rockfish). The rockfish population in the Chesapeake Bay is currently not considered overfished, however the Commission will likely establish a three year timeframe, reducing fish mortality rates in order to raise the population to a healthier number. These limitations will impact the fishery along the Atlantic Coast, including the Chesapeake watershed. A news release for a draft addendum was released May 16. (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission).
Related: The Capital Gazette write-up on the rockfish news release, “Fisheries panel could limit rockfish catch in three year phase-in” (Capital Gazette).
Regulation is moving forward for Dominion Resources in their efforts to export liquefied natural gas out of Cove Point. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has found that exporting natural gas from the facility in Maryland will not have a significant environmental impact. However, the FERC has opened a 30 day public comment period, that started May 15, for those with concerns. Many environmental groups oppose this development, for the risks to air and water pollution export operations could bring to the area. (The Bay Journal)
Plans move ahead for the development of wind energy project off of Eastern Shore, as Maryland Governor vetoed a bill last Friday that would have delayed construction (Baltimore Sun)
This article summarizes the regulations for blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, and includes the perspective of the VMRC. In a few weeks, I’d like to talk to a neighbor and Chesapeake waterman, to share his perspective as well.
There are lower than average numbers of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay this year according to the annual winter dredging surveys, from the Virginia Marine Resources Committee (VMRC) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, released last week. With this news, there is concern over the numbers of adult female crabs in bay waters. In order to ensure that there is a sustainable reproducing population of crabs for next year, should there be additional or harsher regulations enforced for the culling of adult female crabs carrying eggs, also known as sponge crabs, this season?
Sponge crabs are defined as an “adult female hard blue crab that has extruded her eggs on the abdomen or abdominal flap, and eggs have developed a coloration ranging from any shade of brown through black,” according to the VMRC. Female crabs spawn anywhere from two to nine months after mating. When spawning, crabs migrate to high salinity waters, traveling to the lower reaches of the Bay in September or October. Sponge crabs generally release their eggs the following spring and summer, from May to August.
The current regulation for the culling of sponge crabs in Virginia is limited possession from March 17 through June 30. A person in possession of a crabbing license shall not have more than 10 dark sponge crabs per bushel or 35 dark sponge crabs per barrel. Any additional sponge crabs culled in this time frame must be returned to the water.
Maryland regulation toward the culling of sponge crabs is significantly more limited. Unless imported from another state from April 25 through July 5, no person shall be in possession of, transport, or pack sponge crabs or a female crab from which the egg pouch has been removed.
The VMRC press release from last week stated that the minimum safe level of 70 million spawning-age female crabs was estimated to be in the bay in this year’s survey, and that “management actions will be considered in the upcoming months.” The crabbing season in already well underway, and the culling of sponge crabs is still allowed, albeit in limited numbers, until June 30. If a decision is made in the upcoming months, will it be too late to limit the catch of sponge crabs this season? Should Virginia adopt Maryland’s stricter regulations for the culling of sponge crabs? Given that sponge crabs release their eggs from May to August, should the limitation of possession of sponge crabs be extended past the end of June? Perhaps permanently?
I recently spoke with a contact at the VMRC on regulations that will be used to protect crab numbers in the future. According to the VMRC, the juvenile crab population, both males and female, is at a higher abundance this year (199 million juvenile crabs) than was recorded in 2013 (111 million juvenile crabs). Future management strategies will focus on these crabs for 2014 and 2015. The juvenile crabs will begin to enter the fishery this August into the fall of 2014, and represent a large part of the potential spawning stock for 2015. The VMRC states, “The management strategy from this point forward will be two-fold: Continue the current female management framework that was established initially in 2008 is the first part. The second part is to establish measures to conserve the juvenile crabs of 2014 to become the potential spawners of 2015.”
Virginia regulators will continue to work with Maryland’s Department of Conservation and the Potomac River Fisheries, a partnership that has been ongoing for 5 years. These departments will look at factors such as submerged aquatic vegetation, water temperatures, overwintering mortality, and water quality, which have an effect on the blue crab population.
Other Virginia regulations on crabbing:
The lawful seasons for the harvest of male crabs shall be March 17 through November 30, 2014. The lawful seasons for the harvest of female crabs shall be March 17 through November 30, 2014.
From March 16 through July 15, it shall be unlawful for any person to harvest, possess, sell or offer for sale more than 10 peeler crabs, per United States standard bushel, or 5.0% of peeler crabs in any other container, that measure less than 3-¼ inches across the shell from tip to tip of the longest spikes. From July 16 through November 30, 2014, it shall be unlawful for any person to harvest, possess, sell or offer for sale more than 10 peeler crabs, per United States standard bushel, or 5.0% of peeler crabs in any other container, that measure less than 3-½ inches across the shell from tip to tip of the longest spikes, except as described in subsections B and C of this section.
From July 16 through November 30, 2014, it shall be unlawful for any person to harvest, possess, sell or offer for sale more than 10 peeler crabs, per United States standard bushel, or 5.0% of peeler crabs in any other container, that are harvested from waters on the ocean side of Accomack and Northampton counties and measure less than 3-¼ inches across the shell from tip to tip of the longest spikes, except as described in subsection C of this section.
It shall be unlawful for any person to take, catch, harvest, possess, sell or offer for sale, or to destroy in any manner, any soft crab that measures less than 3-½ inches across the shell from tip to tip of the longest spikes.
Virginia has 4 blue crab sanctuary areas where crabbing is restricted (areas that tend to have high numbers of sponge crabs)
Commercial crabbing is restricted on Sundays
Maryland regulations on crabbing:
A person may not catch blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries from December 16 through March 31, inclusive.
An individual licensed to catch crabs for commercial purposes may not harvest mature female hard crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries during the periods:
(a) June 1 through June 15, inclusive;
(b) September 26 through October 4, inclusive; and
(c) November 11 through December 15 inclusive.
A person may not catch crabs using a crab scrape from October 31 to April 14, inclusive. (dredging)
An individual licensed to catch crabs for commercial purposes may not catch or possess in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries more than:
(a) Five mature female hard crabs per bushel of male crabs; or
(b) 13 mature female hard crabs per barrel of male crabs.
From April 1 through July 14, it is illegal to catch or possess a hard crab which measures less than 5 inches across the shell from tip to tip of the spike, from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries, except that the minimum size of crabs does not apply to mature female crabs, identified by the apron;
-After July 14, it is illegal to catch or possess a hard crab which measures less than 5-1/4 inches across the shell from tip to tip of the spike from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries, except that the minimum size of crabs does not apply to mature female crabs, identified by the apron;
– It is illegal to catch or possess a hard crab which measures less than 5 inches across the shell from tip to tip of the spike from the waters of Worcester County, except that the minimum size of crabs does not apply to mature female crabs, identified by the apron;
– It is illegal to catch or possess more than 10 peeler crabs per bushel or more than 20 per float, which are:
(a) Less than 3-1/4 inches across the shell from tip to tip of the spike during the period from April 1 through July 14; and
(b) Less than 3-1/2 inches across the shell from tip to tip of the spike during the period from July 15 through December 15; or
-It is illegal to catch or possess more than one soft crab per 2 dozen soft crabs which is less than 3-1/2 inches across the shell from tip to tip of the spike
Commercial crabbing is restricted on Sundays and Mondays
* The Maryland regulations on the culling of female crabs were a response to low survey numbers in 2007. In 2008, Virginia and Maryland agreed to limit the number of fishermen, pots and traps, allowable hours in a fishing day and/or months in a season. Maryland shortened the crabbing season, Virginia outlawed winter dredging that year (which was already illegal in Maryland). The following years saw a blue crab recovery, although it is hard to contribute that to a change in management or to weather conditions.
Related: Interesting article on the history of crabbing regulations in Maryland and Virginia from the Maryland Sea Grant Chesapeake Quarterly (UMD’s Chesapeake Bay research program)
Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released a study on water quality in the Potomac River, and the impact oyster aquaculture could have on the watershed. Published in Aquatic Geochemistry, the study stated that the nitrogen in the Potomac River estuary could be removed if 40% of the river bed was covered in oyster reefs, or used to grow oysters. (An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons per day). The Potomac River was once a place where oysters thrived, however, the same issues seen in the Chesapeake Bay- disease, overharvesting and eutrophication- significantly reduced the amount of oysters from in the tributary.
There are already ongoing projects, working on restoring oysters to the Potomac River. However, these efforts are running into roadblocks. The Baltimore Sun had a piece today on a proposed marina in Charles County, Maryland, which, when developed, will likely pollute a preexisting oyster bar. Although the oyster bar has been producing significantly low numbers of oysters in the past few decades, the bar is part of recent restoration efforts in Maryland.
This week I’ve been working on a paper on dam construction and deconstruction in the United States for a class on Environmental Conservation and the American Landscape. I thought it was pretty interesting to come across an article, published May 5, on the Conowingo Dam in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has recently called on the company that oversees this hydroelectric dam in Maryland to address environmental concerns. Environmental issues associated with this and many dams in the country include a reduction in river levels, a prevention in flow of nutrients and plants, flooding, and an inability of migrating fish to travel up and down a river as needed. Of particular concern in the Chesapeake region is the buildup of sediment behind dams, which can runoff downstream in large storms. The excess sediment can result in sediment pollution, and disrupt cleanup goals in the lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. CBF Testimony Calls on Exelon to Help Mitigate Pollution and Improve Fish Passages
Today the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) released a report on this year’s Chesapeake blue crab numbers. The VMRC stated that a total of 297 million blue crabs are in the Chesapeake, based on their winter dredge survey from earlier this year. From this number, there are less than 70 millions females of spawning age. Blue crab numbers were extremely low last year, raising the cost of seafood, and limiting the work and income of Chesapeake watermen. This year’s harvest will be as bad, if not slightly worse than last year, with a further depleted blue crab population. It seems likely that Virginia and Maryland will enforce a reduction in harvest to ensure a healthier crab population for next year. The long winter and cold water temperatures were cited as a major factor for low numbers; the VMRC estimates that 28% of the Maryland adult crab population died from prolonged low water temperatures.