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.

As the 2012 crabbing season came to a close, Maryland’s Blue Crab Design Team, MDNR, EDF and others will be evaluating the technologies, the data, and other monitoring elements of the pilot project to see what worked and what might need modification. Participants have reported that daily electronic reporting is easy and preferable over paper reports; MDNR had access to harvest reports in almost real-time. Partners are currently working together to determine how best to continue and expand the electronic harvest project during 2013.

The ultimate goal is to improve accountability in the commercial crabbing sector that will lead to a sustainable, healthy crab population, a more efficient management system and a profitable crabbing industry.  To see first-hand what watermen and fisheries managers in Maryland think about this innovative effort, view a video we prepared on this pilot project.


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