Maryland Watermen Angered By Federal Crabbing Bailout


WASHINGTON (Sept. 24, 2008)—Tuesday's federal disaster declaration for the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery may make the region's watermen eligible for emergency funding, but seafood wholesaler Bob Evans said it won't help him.

"This is all just a bunch of environmentalists not wanting the watermen to crab the bay," said Evans, owner of Crisfield wholesaler and supplier H. Glenwood Evans & Sons Inc. "I'm going to lose a lot of money and nobody's going to reimburse me (for all of it). They're trying to shove us out of business."

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who asked the Commerce Department in May for the disaster declaration, and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, lauded the news.

But Maryland watermen like Evans reacted angrily Wednesday to news of a bailout plan, which would set aside approximately $15 million for the Virginia and Maryland crabbing industries over the next three years if a disaster assistance bill is signed into law. The money would be used to employ watermen, many of whom are going out of business, in habitat-restoration efforts.

The watermen said the Chesapeake Bay crabbing industry needs a return to its regular-length crab-harvesting season, not an infusion of money. The state this year cut the commercial crabbing season in the bay by nearly two months and imposed bushel limits in an effort to reduce the female blue crab harvest.

"They're knocking six weeks out of my revenue and four of those six weeks are top harvesting weeks," Evans said. "They should give us those weeks back instead of money."

Chesapeake Bay blue crab populations have declined about 70 percent since the early 1990s due to water pollution and over-harvesting, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

David Colman, of Cambridge seafood wholesaler Colman and Sons Seafood Inc., called the concern about low blue crab numbers "overblown" and said the species population would eventually climb on its own.

"It's like flies—some years there's a lot of flies, some years there isn't," Colman said. "It's overblown. It's ridiculous."

Though the federal money has not yet been secured, there is $3 million in state funds set aside to employ crabbers in bay restoration beginning late next month, said a Natural Resources Department spokeswoman.

"This is something we've already started working on," said spokeswoman Olivia Campbell. "They'll be doing oyster bar rehabilitation, pilot aquaculture projects (and) wetlands restoration. . . . It would provide them with training and skills to help them not only until the fishery rebounds, but afterward, too."

Campbell said the state had not yet determined how much it would pay watermen for these services or how many of them would be employed to do them.

Lou Goodwin, owner of Jessup wholesaler E. Goodwin and Sons Inc. said crabbers would not be interested in doing bay restoration. He called the effort a "handout."

"The watermen don't want welfare, they don't want a handout—they just want to be watermen," said Goodwin, who said he has begun buying and selling crab from other East Coast states to combat Maryland's Chesapeake Bay commercial bushel limits. "It would be like me or some other waterman tomorrow becoming a computer engineer. That's not happening."

Goodwin said the federal government wouldn't have seen a need for the emergency bailout had they taken care of pollution in the bay long ago.

"They complain about the watermen, what they take from the water, but (pollution comes from) what the general population has been putting in the water, not what the watermen have been taking out," Goodwin said. "So they should quit blaming us."

In the past few years Maryland has spent billions of dollars to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution in the Bay, byproducts of agricultural activities and wastewater management facilities. Nutrient- and sediment-dumping stimulate the growth of algae, which removes oxygen from the water and kills fish.


Watermen Say Bushel Limits on Crabbing Come at Worst Possible Time, Sept. 5, 2008

Md. Announces Oyster Planting Record, Citizen Oyster-Growing Program, Sept. 24, 2008

Ridge Waterman Claims Solution to Bay's Oyster Problem, Sept. 15, 2008

More Restrictions Possible For Oystermen, Jan. 16, 2008

Feds Fund $470,000 for St. Leonard Research Center to Help Restore Oyster Population, Jan. 14, 2008

Water's Appeal Keeps Oystermen Coming Back, March 16, 2008

Press Release Issued by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) on Sept. 23

Team Maryland Applauds Emergency Declaration For Watermen

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Chair of the Maryland delegation Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today joined her Team Maryland colleagues Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) to applaud today's decision by Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez in support of Governor Martin O'Malley's request for a disaster declaration for the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. A declaration will make Maryland's watermen eligible for emergency disaster funding to ease the economic burden placed on the crabbing industry as it faces a 34 percent reduction in the female crab harvest.

As congressional leaders finalize the continuing resolution, which will fund the government through March 2009, Team Maryland is fighting to include the funding necessary to support the declaration.

"This is great news for Maryland's watermen. The disaster declaration means that Maryland is eligble for federal assistance to help the state as officials, industry and communities work to restore our crab population. I am proud to have worked with Secretary Gutierrez to reach this declaration, and will continue to fight to put the money in the federal checkbook to support this decision," said Senator Mikulski, Chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Commerce. "I will continue to lead Team Maryland in our efforts to protect the Bay and those whose livelihoods depend on it in the face of a struggling economy."

"The blue crab population has declined by 70 percent since the 1990s, seriously affecting the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and undermining the economy of Maryland," said Senator Cardin. "Today's disaster declaration will provide needed resources to help Maryland watermen and seafood processors, and lead to improved management to help rejuvenate the blue crab population."

"For centuries, the blue crab has been intrinsically linked with the State of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, in recent years, the blue crab population has declined at an alarming rate," said Congressman Hoyer. "Today's declaration will give our watermen and others impacted by the recently implemented crabbing restrictions the tools to move forward while we all work to revive the health of the Bay and the blue crab fishery."

"This disaster declaration will support watermen and seafood processing companies, a healthier Chesapeake Bay and strengthen Maryland's economy," said Congressman Bartlett.

"The Maryland Blue Crab is one of the greatest symbols of our State, and its survival is essential to our economy," said Congressman Cummings. "Commercial crabbers have witnessed a dramatic decline of crabs in their harvests - more than 50 percent since 1990 - and with forecasts of an even smaller number of crabs this year, the industry is expected to suffer even more. As Marylanders continue to struggle through the consequences of Bush-McCain poor economic policies, it is critical that we provide federal assistance to the watermen and crab processors whose livelihood depends on this industry."

"In these tough economic times with the Wall Street crisis, sky high gas prices, and the foreclosure mess, many Marylanders are hurting. Maryland watermen have been hit especially hard. We hope this move will give the watermen some much needed relief," said Congressman Ruppersberger, a Member of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

"This is great news for the Chesapeake Bay and the watermen whose livelihoods depend on it," said Congressman Van Hollen. "The Bay's blue crab population has been at a historic low. Today's disaster declaration will provide much needed funding to help industry and state officials restore the crab population and protect the Bay's ecosystem."

"The blue crab has become synonymous with Maryland and the Bay," said Congressman Sarbanes. "Waterman, more than any other group, have been impacted by their decline. I am very pleased that the Commerce Department has agreed to provide one of Maryland's oldest and most important industries assistance in the face of new limits on the crab harvest."

"The blue crab is a critical resource for Maryland, affecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the economy of the entire state," said Congresswoman Edwards. "This disaster declaration is an important step forward on the road to recovery for both the blue crab population and all those who depend on it. I commend Senator Mikulski and Gov. O'Malley for their leadership on this important Maryland issue."

Press release Issued by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th)

Hoyer Hails House Approval of $75 Million for Fishery Disaster Assistance

Funding Critical to Efforts to Maintain Chesapeake Bay Commercial Blue Crab Fishery

WASHINGTON, DC - One day following the Federal government’s declaration of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery as a commercial fishery failure, Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) praised House passage of legislation (Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act – HR 2638) making $75 million available for nationwide fishery disaster assistance.

In recent years, scientists have found that the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population has declined by more than 70 percent. In April, the governors of Maryland and Virginia announced their intention to implement management strategies to revive the blue crab fishery, including reduction of the female harvest of blue crabs by 34 percent. According to the State of Maryland, approximately 800 full-time watermen and 17 processing plants will face significant impact to annual income due to the restrictions. This includes 186 watermen in St. Mary’s County.

Recognizing the impact of these restrictions on the watermen, processors, and local economies, the Maryland Congressional Delegation joined the two governors in calling on the Administration to declare a federal disaster for the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery.

“For centuries, the blue crab has been intrinsically linked with the State of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, in recent years, the blue crab population has declined at an alarming rate,” said Congressman Hoyer. “The economic and environmental impact in Maryland has been truly devastating. This new funding on the heels of yesterday’s disaster declaration makes available significant resources to help maintain our commercial fishing infrastructure on the Chesapeake Bay while working to bolster the blue crab population.”

On Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez issued the disaster declaration, which will enable impacted individuals and businesses to be eligible for Small Business Administration loans, Economic Development Administration grants, and Department of Labor worker training. With enactment of today’s House-passed legislation, the State of Maryland will now be eligible for additional funding to help ease the economic burden on Maryland’s crabbing industry while supporting efforts to revive the blue crab population.

The Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act must now be passed by the Senate and signed by the President before it becomes law.

Governor Martin O’Malley Statement On Federal Blue Crab Disaster Declaration

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (September 23, 2008) — Governor Martin O’Malley commended the support and leadership of Maryland’s Congressional Delegation today and thanked Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez for the federal fishery disaster declaration for the Chesapeake Bay blue crab.

“We are grateful to Senators Mikulski and Cardin, and our congressional delegation for their leadership in working with the Department of Commerce to secure this critical designation for Maryland's watermen. Maryland’s blue crab and the traditional fishing industry that it supports face difficult times and the federal funding accompanying the disaster designation will help to preserve the infrastructure of Maryland’s hallmark blue crab fishery, and ensure an active fishery for the future.

This declaration not only helps restore the blue crab population, but it also ensures that the livelihood of our State's watermen continues to be sustained. While we work with the industry on the State level to rebuild stocks and restructure the fishery, this federal action will help sustain the livelihoods of Maryland’s watermen, whose work is so vital to Maryland’s economy.”

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. In May 2008, Governors O’Malley and Kaine requested a disaster assistance evaluation from NOAA‘s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for Chesapeake Bay watermen and women who have suffered economic hardships due to the extremely low and unstable blue crab abundance. Finding that due to adverse environmental conditions including habitat loss, water quality decline, an overabundance of native and non-native predators, and decimation of key blue crab prey, economic losses to the region’s blue crab fishing industry have accumulated over the last decade, the U.S. Department of Commerce today declared a state of disaster for the fishery.

For more information about Maryland’s efforts to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population visit .

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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