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Catch Crabs, Not Terrapins

Recreational Crabbers Reminded to Use Bycatch Reduction Device

Marylandís State Reptile, The Diamondback Terrapin - Photo by Willem M. Roosenburg, Ph.D., Ohio University.

Annapolis, Md. (May 24, 2012) – With Memorial Day weekend marking the traditional opening of crab feast season, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the National Aquarium want to remind recreational crab pot owners to obey the law and help save the State reptile, the diamondback terrapin.

“Putting turtle excluders in a crab pot is easy, inexpensive and every recreational crabber’s responsibility,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin. “A properly equipped crab pot will catch crabs very efficiently without killing these terrific little turtles.” 

Crab pots set by waterfront landowners can accidently trap and drown diamondback terrapins unless equipped with a turtle excluder, or Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD). A BRD is a gate that allows crabs to enter the pot, but keeps the larger-shelled terrapins out. Non-commercial crab pot owners are required by law to have BRDs installed in each funnel entrance and have pots clearly marked with their name and address.

Waterfront landowners in Maryland are allowed to operate up to two crab pots per property. Unlike commercial watermen who set them only in the deeper waters of the open Chesapeake Bay, recreational crab pots may legally be set in tributaries where terrapins live.

Recreational crabbers can purchase BRDs where crab pots are sold and some retailers sell pots that already have the device installed. Those who are unable to locate BRDs can contact the National Aquarium Conservation Department at

Diamondback terrapins are coastal animals. Terrapins are not as sedentary as the pond and river turtles of Maryland’s freshwater species but don’t share the far-roaming lifestyle of sea turtles. While not yet endangered like sea turtles, diamondback terrapins have suffered from declines in water quality and loss of habitat.  

“As denizens of the Chesapeake’s beaches and shorelines, terrapins are particularly vulnerable to shoreline development and hardening,” said Jack Cover, National Aquarium curator. “People who live on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s Coastal Bays have the special privilege of setting crab pots. But with that comes the responsibility to take the simple steps to make their pots turtle-friendly. Nobody wants to find a drowned diamondback terrapin in their crab pot.”

Installing a BRD in a crab pot is straightforward and easy.  Instructions are available at A video about BRDS and terrapins can also be viewed at

Anyone using Crab pots should also remove the pot from the water when not actively using it, especially during the week for weekend homeowners. Untended crab pots can become death traps for crabs and other animals.

Failure to comply with the law can result in the seizure of pots and a fine.

Photo by Willem M. Roosenburg, Ph.D., Ohio University.

   May 24, 2012

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages nearly one-half million acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 11 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at