Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Extends Ban against Harvesting Sponge Crabs; the Prohibition -- in Effect since 2002 -- Will Continue Indefinitely

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Extends Ban against Harvesting Sponge Crabs; the Prohibition -- in Effect since 2002 -- Will Continue Indefinitely

Article excerpt

Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI

BRUNSWICK -- Georgia is extending indefinitely its ban on harvesting sponge crabs, as egg-bearing blue crabs are called.

The extension, effective Tuesday, is a continuation of back-to-back temporary bans by the state Department of Natural Resources that began in 2002 to protect egg-bearing blue crabs.

It forbids both their commercial and recreational harvest in state waters, which extend 3 miles offshore. The measure follows recommendations by natural resources biologists monitoring the crab population, and the state's Blue Crab Advisory Panel, which includes crabbers and seafood industry representatives.

Crabbing is the second-largest seafood industry in Georgia, state records show. Shrimping is No. 1. Crabbers reported harvesting a total of 4.1 million pounds of hard-shell, peeler and soft-shell crabs in Georgia waters in 2007, according to the records.

Those crabs had a combined value of $3.4 million, the records showed.

A new state law gave natural resources Commissioner Noel Holcomb authority to issue the extension. Until now, the General Assembly had the primary authority to set the season and conditions for harvesting blue crabs.

The extension will remain in effect until there is an abundance of sponge crabs and the blue crab population reaches a level where a limited sponge crab harvest could be allowed, said Spud Woodward, department assistant director for marine fisheries.

Department surveys show the crab population is still below the level where officials would consider allowing a sponge crab harvest, he said.

The crab population continues to fluctuate because the species "is strongly controlled by environmental factors," such as drought, Woodward said.

Drought results in high water salinity, leading to disease that can decimate the state's crab population, which happened in 2002 and 2003.

The state implemented the first of two temporary sponge crab bans -- each for three years -- in 2002. …

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