By John Clarke
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Maryland on Tuesday launched a campaign to police recreational and commercial crab fishing as the state grapples with a low population of crabs that can be caught in the Chesapeake Bay, authorities said.
The enforcement campaign takes aim at poachers who defy regulations on minimum sizes, harvest limits and hours, as well as crab pot registrations, threatening the sustainability of Maryland's blue crab population, officials said.
"Our officers will be on the water, on the docks, at wholesalers and at roadside stands to ensure that everyone plays by the rules," Colonel George Johnson, superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police, told a news conference in Annapolis.
Officers also will be on the lookout for recreational crabbers who keep female crabs, which is illegal in Maryland. Officers plan to use patrols, undercover operations, night-vision equipment, cameras and radar, Johnson said.
In a state famous for its native blue crabs, it has been increasingly difficult to find them on the menu. Crabs in Maryland restaurants are often from out of state.
A lack of mature native Maryland blue crabs has driven up prices, which have increased by $100 a bushel since 2012 to $250, said Brenda Davis, chief of the state's Blue Crab Program.
Overall, the crab population is up, but the number of crabs fit for fishing is low, Davis said.
"The season is off to a slow start," she said.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Sandra Maler)