Statement by DNR Secretary John R. Griffin Regarding Blue Crabs

No Gravatar

Thanks for taking time to talk with us about our proposal to rebuild the blue crab population and fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. We are here tonight because our blue crab population and fishery have been in decline for almost 20 years. The population of blue crabs has dropped almost 70 percent since 1990, harvests are at historic lows and we have been harvesting too high of a percentage of this dwindling population.

We are here tonight because we care deeply about those that work on the bay. It is important to note that at the same time that the population of blue crabs has been declining so has the number of crabbers and processors. We understand that these regulatory proposals have significant economic impact for many here – but not acting also has significant, and likely more lasting and profound impacts on your ways of life.

We are here tonight because Governor Kaine and Governor O’Malley agreed to a science-based, conservation goal to reducing the harvest of female blue crabs by 34 percent in 2008 based on the best scientific information. The historic ongoing historic discussion with Virginia over the last several months resulted in Virginia closing their winter dredge fishery and closing their fishery for female blue crabs on October 27. These steps and the opportunities they present to quickly rebuild this fishery in concert with our neighbor are unprecedented.

The time to act is now. We must act to make both the population and the industry that relies on blue crabs sustainable far into the future.

We are here tonight to discuss our proposed emergency regulations package that will have Maryland fulfill its commitment to reduce the harvest of female crabs by 34 percent.

We understand that this will cause economic hardship for the lower Eastern Shore, particularly Dorchester County. With that understanding Governor O’Malley has secured $3 million in state capital funds to provide money to employ watermen in restoring key Chesapeake Bay habitat including rehabilitating oyster reefs, grants to assist in the start up of aquaculture businesses, and grants to assist crab processing companies.

In addition, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin joined with Governor O’Malley last Friday to announce that the state is seeking a disaster declaration from the United States Department of Commerce for the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. We are seeking $15 million over the next three years to provide alternative economic opportunities for watermen and the processing industry.

We will be monitoring the 2008 fishery and the effects of these regulations through next year’s dredge survey results. It is our intention to be adaptive and flexible in our management of this fishery. The regulations proposed here will not be static. Our commitment is to ensure that each year no more than 46 percent of the crab population is removed by fishing pressure.

We are committed to working with the industry and with Virginia to explore effective alternatives for maintaining this target level of harvest. Once we rebuild this population, removing 46 percent of a larger blue crab stock will yield significantly better – and more sustainable – future harvests than removing 55-60 percent of a diminished population.

We are at a cross roads in the management of the symbol of our bay’s bounty. Change is never easy but it is our hope that we can continue to work together towards a more sustainable blue crab population and fishery in the near future.

We are committed to working with you and your local leaders to help get through this short term impact so that together we can emerge with stronger, more predictable and more diverse seafood harvest and processing opportunities that sustain you and the communities that depend upon you.