For years crabbers in the US state of Maryland have been logging their catches with pen and paper.
That means the authorities have only been able to gather complete data about the size of each year’s crab harvest every twelve months – normally that means just before the new season opens – which is often a bit too late to make strategic decisions about stocks.
Now some crabbers are using new technology to speed up the process.
“We’re off to try and catch some crabs …”
That’s sixty two year old Irving Chappelear who has been a Waterman in this part of Maryland all his life, it’s in his blood!
Six days a week you’ll find him in the mouth of the Patuxent (Pah-tux-ent) River where it nears Chesapeake Bay.
Irving’s laying a five hundred metre “Trot Line”, a fishing line – with fresh bulls lips for bait tied on every half meter or so apparently the crabs love to eat them!
Now he’s turning his vessel round, running along the line and scooping up a local delicacy known as the Maryland Blue Crab into baskets which, when full, contain a bushel of crabs.
Today’s haul is fairly light but the season is coming to a close now the first stage of logging the catch is to separate the males from the females.
Irving’s licence allows him to catch an unlimited amount of male crabs and ten bushels of females per day.
For years Irving’s been doing the paper work by hand and submitting his catch figures at the end of the month.
Now he is part of a trial programme known as the Blue Crab Design Team that allows him to input the details of each catch in real time into a tablet computer.
Irving showed me his handheld Samsung which is linked to the internet via a wireless card.
“I was very I guess you’d say sceptical about it. I’m not really on the computer side of things but I volunteered for it. I was real scared about going into the tablet part of it but I come to find out it was real easy.”
Eye on crabs
Keeping closer tabs on the crabs allows the authorities greater flexibility when it comes to who catches crabs where and when.
Ward Slacum, is the project manager for Versar, part of the Blue Crab Design Team.
“If we knew what the harvest was on a daily basis there could be an opportunity to reduce the bushel limits … the managers could potentially allow for more bushels mid-year if they knew what the harvest was at that time.”
For Irving it means he might be allowed to crab for longer than the regulation eight to ten hours if mid-way through the season it becomes clear that stocks are not over-depleted.
For the State of Maryland it means it can make sure Blue Crabs survive well into the future.
Though some crabbers were a little worried that the new technology might be an intrusion into their quiet lives … Irving’s all for it.
“One of my big things was – there would be a crab in the future for my grandkids to catch that they wouldn’t have to look at a picture or this video of me catching a crab and say wow that’s what he used to do – you’d still be doing it.”