Federal declaration will bring economic aid to struggling crabbers
The harvest of soft shell and peeler blue crabs in Chesapeake Bay has been declared a commercial fishery failure by the U.S. Government. The federal declaration is an important step in providing economic assistance to the communities reliant upon crab production.
The governors of Maryland and Virginia requested that the Secretary of Commerce determine a disaster in the blue crab fishery and applied for more than $15 million to offset the economic impact of new limits on the bay’s crab harvest. The harvest value of soft shell crabs in Maryland and Virginia has declined by 41 percent from the late 1990s, according to NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
This year, Maryland and Virginia reacted to declining harvests by imposing deep cuts in the amount of crab that could be harvested by local “watermen.” Stakeholders involved in negotiating the agreement took the aggressive steps so they would not completely eliminate the populations of blue peeler and soft shell crabs in the Chessapeake Bay. In short, the hauls of crab in the bay was no longer sustainable.
Maryland and Virginia limited the number of female crabs that could be taken at certain times and banned Virginia’s traditional “dredge” fishery. The cuts were the most severe cuts to the crab harvest in years.
Officials have said they would spend new federal funds to offset watermen’s lost wages with new work. It is thought that such work would keep the watermen actively involved with improving the fishing grounds and might include surveying crab populations, dredging the silt off underwater oyster bars or building the infrastructure for large-scale oyster farming.
“We’d almost given up on it,” Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermens Association, said of the declaration. “It’s very much needed, because with the cost of fuel and the cost of doing business and the stocks [of crabs] going down . . . it’s shutting us down right now.”