Monday, August 20, 2012

Bringing Crabbing into the 21st Century

Pilot program seeks more accurate count of Chesapeake Bay crabs
Maryland’s watermen would be among the nation’s first to count their catch using smart technology — tablets and cellphones. As part of the pilot program, they can log their catch in three ways: software that sends it directly into a DNR database, text messages sent to a designated number and telephone calls to a call center.

It’s an attempt to solve a vexing problem with a few key strokes, said Steve Early, fisheries service division manager for DNR. Maintaining the bay’s crab stock is complicated, and knowing where adult crabs are harvested, especially females, is crucial to protecting them.

Females in the southernmost part of Maryland’s portion of the watershed are jealously guarded because they are crucial to maintaining the crab stock in Maryland and Virginia.

“With 5,200 watermen, the amount of paper coming from the current way of counting is a daunting challenge for the state. They’re a little bit behind the eight ball in knowing what’s coming out of the water,” said George Chmael, a facilitator for the Maryland Blue Crab Industry Design Team that recommended the technology.

“The state wants to make sure it doesn’t overshoot the catch,” Chmael said. “If you have to make a mistake, you want to make the mistake of leaving more crabs in the water.” Millions of crabs that watermen can catch are probably left in the bay because of cautious limits, Chmael said.
It's not clear from the article whether the state is providing the tablets or cell phones to the watermen, though I would be inclined to suspect that they will. The cost is probably small compared to the labor portion of the program.  However, most watermen out there probably already have cell phones; cell phone coverage of Maryland's portion of Chesapeake Bay is pretty good, and most commercial fisherman have come to use them in place of VHF radios for privacy reasons.

Web based sites have been available for reporting recreational stripped bass catches for some time, it's surprising to me that this program has come relatively late to the commercial sector.

I think it's a useful program, but as with the replacement of on-the-ground spies with satellite observations, I think it can be carried too far.  If there is no on-the-ground spot checking of the reporting, there is really no reason for watermen to report accurately, and if seasons are to be shut off when quota's are reached, there is a positive disincentive.

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