Some Maine crab and lobster fishermen keep only the claws of Jonah crabs they catch. A new rule allows them to continue that practice. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE UMAINE SEA GRANT

Crab bycatch rule set

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s American Lobster Management Board approved Addendum II to the Jonah Crab Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The addendum establishes a coast-wide standard for claw harvest and a definition of bycatch, based on a percent composition of catch, in order to minimize the expansion of a small-scale fishery under the bycatch allowance.

The lobster board is in charge of Jonah crab management, as the fisheries are linked in many states. Many fishermen fish for both species with the same gear.

Some crab fishermen keep only crab claws and throw back the rest of the crab. Under a provision in the 2015 FMP, only fishermen from New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia who have a history of claw landings prior to June 2, 2015, were allowed to harvest claws. All other fishermen were required to land whole crabs only.

The commission discovered that there also were fishermen in New York and Maine who had a history of claw landings but they were required to land whole crabs under the provisions of the FMP.

Addendum II permits claw harvest coast-wide. At the ASMFC annual meeting in November, some members of the Maine delegation suggested that it would be easier to enforce a volume limit on crab claws, like a five-gallon bucket, rather than a minimum claw size. The addendum allows Jonah crab fishermen to detach and harvest claws at sea, with a required minimum claw length of 2.75 inches if the volume of claws landed is greater than five gallons. Claw landings less than five gallons do not have to meet the minimum claw length standard. Fishermen also may harvest whole crabs which meet the 4.75-inch minimum carapace width.

Addendum II also establishes a definition of bycatch in the Jonah crab fishery, whereby the total pounds of Jonah crabs caught as bycatch must weigh less than the total amount of the targeted species at all times during a fishing trip. The intent of this definition is to address concerns regarding the expansion of a small-scale fishery under the bycatch limit. Prior to this addendum, a non-trap or non-lobster trap fisherman could land 1,000 crabs as bycatch but was not required to have any other species of catch on board. Through Addendum II, fishermen harvesting under the bycatch limit must have another species on board of greater weight than landed Jonah crabs.

For more information, contact Megan Ware, Fishery Management Plan coordinator, at [email protected] or (703) 842-0740.

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