Category Archives: Chesapeake Bay

Electronic Monitoring and Accountability in the Chesapeake Proves Effective

MD Blue Crab Design Team member and active EM pilot project participant, David Kirwin, uses a tablet to submit daily harvest reports from his boat Photo Credit: Ward Slacum

MD Blue Crab Design Team member and active EM pilot project participant, David Kirwin, uses a tablet to submit daily harvest reports from his boat
Photo Credit: Ward Slacum

Discussion about innovation, trends and shortfalls in fisheries monitoring tends to focus on large, off-shore fisheries in New England, Alaska and the Pacific.  Those regions are home to multi-species fisheries, with complex biological interactions, and are targeted by large boats that result in sizeable discards of “non-target” fish.  Monitoring technologies, both human and electronic, are essential to reduce this waste.  Smaller scale fisheries, however, have just as much need for improved electronic monitoring and accountability measures.

Not surprisingly, blue crab is the most valuable fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.  And it’s about as complex as they come.  More than 7,000 watermen deploy small boats from thousands of waterfront access points and are regulated by three different management jurisdictions, all of which use antiquated reporting systems.

As reported on this blog before, commercial crabbers in Maryland have tested mobile technologies, like smart phones and tablets, to report and verify daily harvest.  In 2012 and 2013, volunteers used these various technologies and provided constructive feedback to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to improve its monitoring and reporting system.  Overall, participants in the two-year pilot are pleased with mobile technology tools and the web-based reporting platform, which along with dockside spot checks, have improved reporting accuracy and timeliness, according to fisheries managers.  As part of the 2013 pilot, fisheries managers offered limited regulatory flexibility for pilot volunteers in order to encourage participation and demonstrate how improved accountability can lead to streamlined regulations.

In Virginia, crabbers are embracing electronic harvest accountability, thanks to participants in Maryland’s first pilot who traveled to Virginia to discuss their experiences and success. Since then, Virginia’s Blue Crab Industry Panel has partnered with Virginia Sea Grant, EDF and Virginia’s Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to alert Virginia watermen about how to utilize an existing web-based reporting platform. In only a few months, VMRC noted an increase in online-based reports from watermen.

Without the efforts of the commercial crabbing industry in both states, accountability improvements may not have been made.  Chesapeake watermen are proving that they are problem solvers by nature, are invested in their fishery and willing to adopt new measures to modernize harvest reporting.

As crabbers in both Maryland and Virginia demonstrate success with electronic monitoring and harvest accountability, there is little doubt that such measures will spread to other fisheries within the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding states.  And that’s good for watermen who save time and gain flexibility; fisheries managers who can make more informed and timely decisions; and scientists who receive more reliable data.

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EDF Oceans saddened by loss of Captain Larry Simns and shares its appreciation for his lifetime of Chesapeake leadership

Larry Simns

Larry Simns. Photo credit: Maryland Watermen's Association

We at EDF Oceans were saddened to hear that Larry Simns, founder and leader of the Maryland Watermen’s Association for 40 years, passed away last Thursday at the age of 75. We are certainly not alone, however, as Larry was admired and respected by a wide range of communities. His ability to transcend the line between industry and government entities allowed him to lead his organization to consensus on challenging issues facing the Chesapeake Bay and the fishing industry.

Thomas V. Grasso, our Senior Oceans Advisor, wrote the following when he heard of Larry’s passing:

I have been privileged and honored to have known Captain Larry Simns for 20 years. I first met him when I was living and working on the Chesapeake Bay. For the entire time I knew Larry, he was a true leader on issues that mattered for the Chesapeake Bay and the Watermen who rely on the health of the bay for their livelihoods. Larry was a creative problem solver, always looking for ways to advance both the business interests of watermen and the restoration of the bay. He saw these two things as being intimately linked to each other and I could not agree more.  I learned a great deal from Larry and I know he will be missed on the Chesapeake Bay. We'll miss his common sense and thoughtfulness in the public debate on the Chesapeake. I will miss him as a person and for his keen insights, sense of humor and passion for the watermen’s way of life.

This is a sad moment for the Chesapeake Bay community, but we hope that those who admired him and drew inspiration from his work will carry on his spirit of determination for the hardworking watermen of the Chesapeake Bay.

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Partnering with Maryland Watermen in Electronic Catch Accounting Pilot

While winter around the Chesapeake Bay is known for oysters and striped bass, summertime means blue crabs. If you enjoyed steamed crabs from Maryland this summer, you may have consumed crabs harvested by watermen involved in a ground-breaking test of technology to improve long-term blue crab management.

The Maryland Blue Crab Accountability Pilot program – a collaborative effort among commercial watermen called the Blue Crab Design Team, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and other partners – was designed to test electronic daily harvest reporting in order to gather more accurate and timely harvest information. From mid-July through the end of Maryland’s commercial crabbing season in mid-November, some 50 commercial crabbers, ranging in age from 25 – 75, tested the use of hand-held technologies like cell phones, smartphones and tablets, to report blue crab harvest daily.

Sustainable fisheries management requires sound science and accurate harvest and effort information. Current reporting relies on monthly paper reports and manual data entry that can take months to process. Daily electronic harvest reporting can improve the accuracy of harvest data, and result in real-time harvest information for in-season management decision-making. Read More »

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Maryland Crab Pilot Aims to Modernize Reporting

Maryland Blue Crab

Photo by: John Starmer/Marine Photobank

When summer time rolls around on the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, tourists and locals alike start thinking about one thing: Blue Crabs. Will there be enough? How much will they cost? How long will the season last?

Past years have seen seasons cut short based on regulations that conservatively lower scientifically determined catch limits as a precautionary management measure, because real-time harvest data is limited.  The process for counting how many crabs have been caught – and by whom – has been problematic, relying on a paper-based system that is time-consuming and too slow to allow meaningful adjustments to catch limits midseason. This year, both watermen and state officials agreed that a new system, using modern and faster technologies, was needed. Read More »

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