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Maryland Increases Fall Female Crab Bushel Limit

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland watermen will be able to catch more female crabs this fall.

The Department of Natural Resources announced the change Thursday, saying fisheries managers determined the increase won’t negatively impact the population, which is rebounding after a sharp decline.

The daily female catch limit between Sept. 1 and Nov. 10 will be increased two bushels to 12 for those with a Limited Crab Catcher License.

Licenses allowing larger catches will see comparable increases. The department had also been considering changing the season to take advantage of higher June crab prices. Harvesting of female crabs is prohibited June 1-15 and Nov. 11-Dec. 15.

All other commercial and recreational crabbing regulations for 2011, in both the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s coastal bays, remain the same.

The annual winter dredge survey this year showed a cold winter killed nearly a third of the bay’s adult crabs, but the population was still above the restoration target. The survey results showed the population at 460 million, down from more than 650 million in last year’s survey.

Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin said the department was pleased to permit a small increase for the commercial crabbing industry.

“Over the past three years, we have successfully transitioned from a virtually unregulated female crab fishery to a system that allows us to react to changes in the crab population,” Griffin said. “Going forward, we will continue to follow the advice of scientists and work with the crabbing industry to ensure that the crab harvest remains at sustainable levels.”

Harvest restrictions were put in place after previous surveys found a sharp drop in crab numbers. Virginia and Maryland cut the crab harvest by a third beginning in 2008. They also shortened the season and banned the dredging of hibernating pregnant females.

Despite the drop in this year’s survey, state officials noted the bay’s blue crab population is at its second highest level since 1997 and well above the restoration target population for the third year in a row.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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