Blue Crab Research Gets Fiscal Boost From Phillips Foods, Inc.
BALTIMORE, MD — Representatives from Phillips Foods, Inc. today presented the Maryland Watermen’s Association’s Chesapeake Bay Environmental Planners (CBEP) with a $100,000 donation to continue to build “grow out” nurseries to receive juvenile crabs from ongoing hatchery efforts of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute’s Center of Marine Biotechnology (COMB) and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC).
“Our Bay fisheries are in trouble, particularly crab and oyster. We feel that this effort by the watermen, COMB, the Smithsonian and their colleagues in the scientific community is critically important if we are to sustain crab populations in the ecosystem,” said Steve Phillips of Phillips Seafood, Inc. “This species helps promote tourism, the economy and employment in Maryland. The Phillips family has been a proud participant in this project since its inception. We think it is critical to raise juvenile crabs in a laboratory environment, tag them, transfer them to the grow out nurseries, and release them into the Bay to study reproduction, migration, life cycles, and predation,” Phillips said.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has fully supported these efforts for the past three years, and is now increasing support by providing “grow out” facilities in Oxford, Md. and Piney Point, Md.
The $100,000 donation was presented by Joanna Phillips, daughter of Steve Phillips, to the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Planners and COMB to further the research and development of the crab hatchery/nursery program. Part of the donation will provide two scientists from Indonesia who have first hand experience in crab aquaculture to assist with the COMB effort.
Steve Phillips and his parents, Brice and Shirley, recognized in the 1980s that the supply of Bay crabmeat was in jeopardy and it was then that Steve began a global search for quality blue crab meat to keep the family restaurants and wholesale operation thriving. As Bay harvests continued to decline the Phillips family wanted to help local watermen and the crab fishery. In 2000, Steve Phillips donated $200,000 to start the crab restoration efforts of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute’s COMB to research the blue crab on the Bay and begin an effort aimed at restoring the fishery. Since the inception of the COMB program Phillips has donated an additional $100,000 as well as $55,000 via fundraisers at Phillips Seafood Restaurants.
In research funded by the Phillips family, DNR and NOAA, over 80,000 juvenile blue crabs were produced during the last two years at the pilot facilities of the Center of Marine Biotechnology. Around 44,000 of the baby crabs were individually tagged and experimentally released into the Chesapeake Bay. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center scientists then monitored the crabs in the Bay for periods of up to one year after their release, obtaining promising results in terms of the potential contribution of the released crabs to the blue crab breeding stocks.
“To date, this has been the world’s largest tag, release and monitor experiment done for any species of crab,” said Dr. Yonathan Zohar, Director of COMB and head of the integrated blue crab research program. “However, in order to determine the feasibility of using hatchery produced crabs to help restore the Bay blue crab, we need to release many more crabs both in Maryland and Virginia. We are now at a stage in our research where we can produce the hundreds of thousands of juvenile crabs needed for the remaining critical release experiments. The only limit has been tank or grow out nursery space,” Zohar said. “We are thus ready to work with the watermen and DNR in scaling up our production so we can release larger numbers of hatchery crabs and monitor their survival, migration patterns and impact on abundance of the dwindling blue crab breeding stocks.”
UMBI President Dr. Jennie Hunter-Cevera also noted the significance of the donation.
“This event today and the donations by Phillips and DNR, and the watermen’s CBEP, marks a significant milestone for COMB researchers and their collaborators who have worked so diligently over the past three and a half years from spawning and hatching blue crabs out of season and in captivity to designing a hatchery for blue crab production,” said Hunter-Cevera. “The synergistic partnership between the watermen and academic researchers has successfully integrated indigenous knowledge with the modern tools of biotechnology and aquaculture. This is quite an achievement and I am very proud of Dr. Zohar and his team for their perseverance and dedication to this project of enhancing blue crabs in the Chesapeake ecosystem.”
Upon receiving the donation Capt. Bob Evans, Chairman of CBEP and President of the Anne Arundel County Watermen’s Association upon receiving the check said that it was his hope that other Maryland corporations interested in fisheries or the Bay will step up and match this contribution. “It is important to realize that this scientific effort goes far beyond the watermen’s backyard. It will impact the Bay at large just like the Maryland crab impacts our State’s culture and tradition. The entire Bay community is grateful to the continuing support from Phillips Foods because with their help and that from others we will see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Evans said.
CBEP and COMB have identified two “grow out” nurseries, in St. Mary’s and Talbot Counties, and efforts are underway to have them in operation to receive juvenile crabs from the University hatchery in Baltimore this summer. “We want to see hundreds of thousands of juvenile crabs released into the ecosystem by this fall,” said Mick Blackistone, Executive Director of CBEP. “With the help of Phillips, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Program office and others in the private and public sector we will make this massive project a reality,” he said.
For more information on the project or how to get involved please contact MWA-CBEP at 410-268-7722.
Posted June 11, 2004