Virginia-Maryland Governors Announce Chesapeake Bay Crab Rebuilding Plan

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine have announced their commitment to work together to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s beleaguered blue crab population by directing state regulators and scientists to implement management strategies to revive the imperiled fishery.

Governor O’Malley and Governor Kaine made their historic announcement on the banks of the Potomac River moments after they were briefed by state scientists on the results of this year’s winter dredge survey, an annual look at the health of the blue crab stock and the most reliable predictor of the upcoming season’s crab harvest numbers.  Environmental scientists estimate that more than 60 percent of the Bay’s crab population was harvested in 2007.

“Governor Kaine and I have directed our regulatory agencies to take immediate steps to reduce the 2008 female harvest of blue crabs by 34 percent, and to develop long-term management strategies to ensure that the blue crab and the economy it supports continue to be an important part of our culture for generations to come,” said Governor O’Malley.

At a meeting with representatives of Maryland’s blue crab industry on Monday night, Governor O’Malley announced his intention to work closely with them to mitigate short term economic impacts resulting from this action. The Governor is also working with his cabinet to explore other economic relief opportunities for watermen and crab processors and their employees.

“Ten to fifteen years ago we were harvesting 33 to 35 million pounds of crabs per year here in Maryland. Landings now average 22 to 25 million pounds — a drop of nearly one-third. This lost economic opportunity is unacceptable,” said Governor O’Malley.

Scientists from both states have been concerned about the abundance of the shared resource for several years, as populations and harvest numbers have dropped.  Continued high fishing rates, particularly targeted to mature, egg-bearing female crabs during their fall migration, have delayed recovery and increased risk.

“Our review today of the 2007/2008 winter dredge survey results has confirmed that the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is suffering near historic lows in spawning stock and unacceptably high fishing rates,” said the Governors in a joint statement (attached).

“Our most valuable commercial fishery is in danger of an economic collapse.  Maryland and Virginia must act now, and we must act together, to reduce harvest pressure on blue crabs immediately, and in so doing, protect both the biological and the economic sustainability of our shared resource.”

Maryland and Virginia have had a shared harvest target of 46 percent since 2001.  Scientists estimate that the combination of low abundance of crabs and continuing high fishing pressure led to more than 60 percent of the Bay’s crab population being harvested in 2007.

“We know that we cannot rebuild the blue crab population without an economic impact to those who rely on this fishery for their livelihoods,” said Governor O’Malley.  “However, Maryland is committed to working with our stakeholders to mitigate this impact.”

“The blue crab is a resilient species and through effective management and this critical partnership with Virginia, we will be able to rebuild our population quickly to ensure the future of this iconic resource and Maryland’s blue crab industry.”

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is currently working with stakeholders to review a range of management options to achieve a reduction of 34 percent in the harvest of female crabs.  This will lead to a projected increase of 20-26 million female crabs left in the bay to spawn and provide the best opportunity for a quick rebound of the population.  Proposed regulations are expected to be submitted later this month.

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