Crab License Buyback Offer

Holders of Maryland crabbing licenses will be offered $2,260 for their permits, state officials announced, ending a buyback effort in which licensees were allowed to name their price in a reverse auction. Maryland is hoping to reduce the number of outstanding crabbing licenses, many of which are not used actively and make it difficult to accurately manage the crab population, which has dropped sharply in recent years. The Department of Natural Resources said it will decline all of the 494 bids it had received and instead offer $2,260. For those who decide not to sell, two options are being considered for inactive holders of Limited Crab Catcher licenses, which currently allow unlimited trot line crabbing and up to 50 crab pots, said Brenda Davis, blue crab program manager for the Maryland DNR. The options being considered for those who have not reported a harvest from 2004 to 2008 will be a freeze on the license until the crab population reaches a target level for three straight years, or a male harvest only option, which also would make the license nontransferable, Davis said. While participation was lower than expected, the DNR said the bids allowed it to determine a fair value for the licenses. The bids ranged into the millions of dollars, with the higher bids most likely a protest, according to Assistant Fisheries Director Lynn Fegley.

Maryland has about 6,000 crabbing licenses. The state sent a letter July 8 to 3,676 LCC license holders, hoping to buy back about 2,000. The licenses represent a large potential crabbing effort because they could re-enter the fishery. Virginia, meanwhile, is running its own reverse auction for crab licenses. Ken Smith, president of the Virginia Watermen’s Association, estimated earlier this year that a successful full-time crabber would be likely to ask $200,000 to $300,000 for his license. Virginia has approximately 2,000 licensed watermen, with about half that number actively crabbing. The state already has suspended 500 dormant licenses held by watermen who have not reported a catch in years.

Crab stocks are estimated to have declined 70-percent in the Chesapeake since the early 1990s because of overfishing, pollution and habitat loss. Last year, the U.S. Commerce Department declared the crab fishery a federal disaster and the Maryland buyback program is being funded with federal money. Both states also have imposed stricter harvest regulations, which appear to be having a positive effect with an annual survey recording the highest crab population since 1993.