Illegal crabbing can land you in hot water in Maryland.
Last week 45-year-old Thomas William Pannebaker, hit with a lifetime ban from crabbing back in 2003, was found harvesting crabs yet again and could face up to a year in jail.
The Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Natural Resources Police know Pannebaker all too well.
The repeat crabber became the poster child for a new point-based suspension system introduced in 2003 to crack down on commercial crabbing and fishing violations, said Candy Thomson, spokesperson for the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
Pannebacker was banned for life in 2003 after being cited for 10 violations, including crabbing with illegal pots and wearing night vision goggles. The new regulations were then introduced using Panneback as a prime example of what not to do.
Under the new system, commercial crabbers and fisherman—required to be licensed—accumulate points for violations, similar to a driver’s license. The process to revoke or suspend a license is set into motion once violators hit their 30th point.
“It was the kind of illegal actions that he personified that were exactly what the Department of Natural Resources was aiming at,” Thomson said. “There were certain people who gamed the system and DNR was looking to revise the way it assessed penalties. Mr. Pannebaker’s cases came up while regulators were considering what to do, and he’s just perfect.”
While Pannebaker was only banned from crabbing, there have been cases where violators were suspended or banned from harvesting oysters or striped bass. Thomson says a man was recently banned from even setting foot on a commercial fishing boat, and ordered to serve six months in jail.
There are currently 25 license revocations and one suspension, dating back to Pannebaker’s offense in 2003, Thomson said.
Recreational crabbers must also abide by laws set by the Department of Natural Resources. These laws, which Thomson said change often, are enforced to protect the sensitive ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waters.
“Rules change depending on what biologists believe we need to do to protect the crab population,” Thomson said. “If the crab population is down, they’re going to take action to protect more crabs. When the crab population goes up they can relax those. They’re always changing, so we always ask people to please go online and check.”
There are limits to the size of crabs caught and daily catch limits. Not abiding by recreational blue crab rules could lead to hefty fines.
“We really want people to have a good time,” Thomson said. “We want people to have a good family crab feast, but we also need to protect the resource.”