The Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) voted to approve the dates of the 2012-2013 Oyster Season Dates at the quarterly meeting on August 30. The dates for Hand Tonging are October 1, 2012 through March 31, 2013. The hours are sunrise to 1 p.m. until the end of 2012 and sunrise to 3 p.m. for 2013.
Hand scraping dates are November 1, 2012 until March 31, 2013 with the hours being 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.. Originally PRFC staff had requested a change in the Hand Tonging hours until 2 p.m. but it was rejected due to the low oyster haul numbers of the past few years.
Chair of the Oyster Advisory committee (OAC), Tucker Brown, asked the PRFC for higher fees for oystering, higher fines for those who are poaching on seeded beds, and for monies to cover another oyster seeding project. The OAC has asked for an increase in fees in order to facilitate planting diploid oyster seedlings in order to allow them to spawn in the future.
At present time the largest oyster seeding program, the Oyster Management Reserve, will be seeding a bed, through licensing fees and investment monies, with solely triploid spat. These triploid oysters are sterile and will not reproduce on their own. Elgin Nigel, a commercial oysterman, spoke in favor of the planting of diploid seedlings, stating, “Surely some of them will fall in love and give us little oysters.”
PRFC staff was recommended to flesh out a program in which a possible seed monies of $50,000 a year, for four years, be given to the OAC to use to seed diploid shells on four rotating bars. It would be at least Spring of 2013 before this venture could possibly go forward.
During the discussion of triploid and diploid spat the ask for an increase of fines was also brought forth by the OAC chair. At present time for poaching oysters the maximum fine is $1,000. As PRFC regulations cover Maryland and Virginia both legislatures most approve any increase in fines and it can take several years for this to come to pass. The loss of fishing license and tags was brought forth as another deterrent, but Kirby Carpenter reminded the committee that oftentimes poachers have no licenses at all.
PRFC decided to work toward getting changes in fines to $3,000 or whatever twice the illegal catch would be worth on the open market. For example, if someone were to poach $2,500 worth of oysters the fine should be set at $5,000 so that there would never be a chance that poaching could still be profitable.
The Finfish Advisory Committee asked that any efforts toward enforcing new limits on the American Eel be held off until such time as the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) had time to make their recommendations. At this time the American Eel is very close to being listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act due to the decline in numbers.
In April 2010 a petition on this matter was sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service by the Council of Endangered Species Act Reliability asking for the status change, by stating that the large decline in number of American Eels was due to: loss of habititat, overutilization (overfishing), disease in particular the swim bladder parasite, Anguillicola Crassus, and the lack of ASMFC regulation over fishing. The matter is still under advisement, but if the eel were to be listed as threatened it would no longer be up to the PRFC to set fishing regulations of said eel.
The long term average of pounds harvested per year is 280,000 pounds from 1964-2001 for the eel. In 2011 only 29,000 pounds of eel were harvested in the Potomac River. The average haul per eel pot license holder was 2,000 pounds in 2011.
Crab fishing numbers were also reported for the 2012 season. The July 2012 bushel number for hard crabs was 10,262. July’s average over the 26 previous years was 18,210. June’s bushel haul was 11,669 with a historic average of 14,091. Total crabs for the 2012 season as of July 31 was 27,935 hard crab bushels, 16,701 peeler bushels, and 851 soft bushels.