Bobby and Pete Sweitzer show off their day’s catch in September 1968.
A. AUBREY BODINE FOR THE BALTIMORE SUN
he good old days: when watermen caught larger crabs and more crabs per pot. Things have changed in the
forty-six years since this photo was taken. Today, the catch-per-unit-effort and the average size of crabs are
much reduced, causing crabbers to work much harder for less return on their investments. The crab popula-
tion is also less resilient, having fewer crabs in the population to boost reproduction.
Two primary changes have led to this plight.
Watermen today have fewer options and, thus, have to rely more on crabbing than ever before. The once prodigious
shad and herring fisheries are closed. Soft clams are nearly gone. But the big shift came in the 1980s when the rockfish and oyster fisheries both collapsed, and watermen shifted a lot of effort to crabbing. With more effort (many
more pots), crabs were caught faster and younger. Fixing the problem means finding ways to structure the fishery so
crabbers do not need to crab as hard as they have been.
Degraded habitat has also destabilized the crab fishery. Bay grasses, which provide a place for small crabs to hide
from predators like rockfish, have been reduced by 80 percent. And rockfish are eating more crabs because their preferred prey, menhaden, are at an all-time low. In addition, each year, the Bay’s suffocating dead zone kills enough
small clams and worms to feed about 60 million blue crabs, while crowding crabs into shallow water where they are
more vulnerable. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution contribute to both of these habitat problems.