Recognizing the challenges facing Maryland’s commercial fishing industry and the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population, earlier this year Governor Martin O’Malley worked with members of the General Assembly to secure $3 million in capital funding for projects to help mitigate watermen’s economic losses while also helping to restore the bay.
“Temporarily employing watermen for environmental restoration projects will help preserve Maryland’s fishing industry infrastructure while the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is rebounding,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “Utlizing their existing skills and equipment, watermen will help us improve more than 1,000 acres of oyster bars.”
The Maryland Watermen’s Association and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources collaboratively developed specific work projects designed to utilize the industry’s existing equipment and skill set. In addition to oyster bar rehabilitation projects, land-based job opportunities are also available in order to accommodate individuals who do not own boats and dredge gear.
“This is a win-win situation, that helps both the watermen and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Larry Simms, Maryland Watermen’s Association. “It’s great that the Governor worked with us to help some of this restoration work get done utilizing watermen manpower.”
Every year, the Chesapeake Bay loses 2,600 acres of hard bottom oyster habitat. Watermen and women with boats and dredge equipment will remove silt and sediment from the tops of once historically healthy oyster bars in order to prepare them for a natural spat set and/or hatchery seed planting. Restoration of state-managed oyster bars (sanctuaries and reserves) will begin in mid-November.
“Rehabilitating oyster bars is a multi-step process. Without natural shell to use as substrate, using watermen to remove sediment build-up from these relic oyster reefs is a needed and cost effective alternative,” said Stephan Abel, Executive Director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the non-profit organization that will coordinate the watermen and women’s work.
Maryland watermen interested in participating in water and land-based job opportunities must apply by Friday, Oct. 31. Interested watermen and women may obtain an application online at http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/oyster/ or by calling 866-952-3305. Initial selection preference will be given to qualified Maryland watermen who actively crabbed in 2008.
Earlier this year, the O’Malley/Brown Administration coordinated historic action with Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s beleaguered blue crab population by reducing the harvest of ecologically valuable female blue crabs by 34 percent in 2008. After receiving a request from Governors O’Malley and Kaine, the U.S. Department of Commerce granted a disaster declaration for Chesapeake Bay watermen and women who have suffered economic hardships due to the low and unstable blue crab abundance. Maryland’s Congressional delegation, under the leadership of Senator Barbara Mikulski, worked to support the State’s request for the disaster declaration and ensure that funding in the consolidated federal appropriations package that became law on September 30, 2008. Release of these funds is anticipated through the U.S. Department of Commerce.
For more information about Maryland’s efforts to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population visit http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/dnrnews/infocus/blue_crab.asp.