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Joint Statement By Governors Kaine And O’Malley On The Declining State Of The Blue Crab
~ Urge a Collaborative Solution to Revive the Imperiled Crab Fishery ~
COLONIAL BEACH, VA – Our review today of the winter 2007/2008 dredge survey results has confirmed our increased concerns: The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is suffering near historic lows in spawning stock and unacceptably high fishing rates — an estimated 60 percent of the available crabs were caught in 2007. The evidence is clear that our most valuable commercial fishery is in imminent danger, producing in 2007 one of the worst harvest years on record, and at risk for 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. Not to act would be irresponsible.
We learned from our experts today that our populations are down 70 percent from 1990 levels and are showing no signs of recovery despite the last harvest reduction actions taken in 2001, which initially helped stabilize an earlier decline. We also learned that our best chance to return to a healthy, more productive population quickly is to focus on protecting mature female crabs. To that end, our scientists have recommended a reduction of 34 percent in the 2008 harvest of female crabs. This will lead to a projected increase of 20-26 million female crabs left in the bay to spawn.
Each year, tens of millions of mature, egg-bearing female crabs migrate down the Bay in the fall, in preparation for releasing their eggs the following summer. We must do a better job of protecting these crabs if we are to rebuild our blue crab stocks and the economy that they sustain.
The blue crab rests at the heart of our culture and heritage. The blue crab industry is an important financial driver for many small Bay communities; with an annual economic impact of $120 million to $200 million Baywide it provides a livelihood for thousands of people.
We know that a variety of environmental factors — degraded water quality and loss of submerged aquatic vegetation, in particular — have disrupted the balance of the Bay ecosystem and likely contributed to the decline of the fishery. Both Virginia and Maryland are committed to improving the health of the Bay’s waters. We have taken bold steps to improve water quality and are working to accelerate our efforts.
Blue crabs are a public trust resource owned by the citizens of Maryland and Virginia. The most immediate opportunity to rebuild the crab population is through a reduction in harvest pressure. Unfortunately, we cannot rebuild this fishery without some short-term economic impact to the industry.
Our goal of removing no more than 46 percent of the available crabs has been exceeded in eight of the last ten years – reaching 60 percent in 2007. We cannot protect let alone rebuild a stock while we are overfishing at that rate. Therefore, we are directing our regulatory agencies to take immediate steps to reduce the 2008 crab harvest and to take all measures necessary to create a sustainable fishery.
Fortunately, the blue crab is a resilient species. With effective management actions in place, we should see immediate increases in the spawning stock leading to significant population increases and harvest levels within a few short years.
We are at an historic juncture today where Maryland and Virginia are collaborating at unprecedented levels. We will monitor our progress closely; tracking this year’s harvest and scrutinizing the winter dredge survey results next year. And we are committed to working together, and with our stakeholders, to properly manage this species for the long-term. It is only by working together that we will achieve a Bay-wide solution and return the Chesapeake blue crab to its rightful place of abundance in the Bay’s ecology, economy and heritage.
April 15, 2008
Contact: Olivia Campbell
410-260-8016 office I 410-507-7525 cell
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages nearly one-half million acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov