Md. Politicians Seek Release of Funding to Support Watermen

WASHINGTON (Oct. 26, 2008) – As Maryland’s female blue crab season officially came to a close Thursday, Chair of the Maryland delegation Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) 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 Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) to urge Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez to immediately release $30 million in fishery disaster funding to ease the economic burden on Chesapeake Bay watermen and the crabbing industry.

Last month the Department of Commerce supported a request made by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine for a disaster declaration for the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. The disaster declaration made Maryland’s watermen eligible for emergency disaster funding, which was included in the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2009, and signed into law September 30th. The bill contained a total of $75 million for fishery disaster assistance, to be allocated by the Department of Commerce to states where disasters have been declared. Today’s letter urges Secretary Gutierrez to release $30 million – the amount requested by Govs. O’Malley and Kaine – for Chesapeake Bay watermen as soon as possible. Virginia Senators John Warner (R-Va.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Virginia Reps. Thelma D. Drake (R-Va.), Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) and Robert J. Wittman (R-Va.) were also signers.

“Maryland’s watermen have witnessed a drastic decline of crabs in their harvests, and now that Maryland’s blue crab season has ended early, we must act quickly to support Maryland’s watermen and protect the Bay,” said Senator Mikulski. “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.”

“As Maryland’s blue crab season is forced to an early end, it is vital that the federal emergency disaster assistance funds already approved be released as soon as possible to have their greatest impact,” said Senator Cardin. “The blue crab population has declined by 70 percent since the 1990s, seriously affecting the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and undermining the economy of Maryland. These vital federal resources will help Maryland watermen and seafood processors, and lead to improved management to help rejuvenate the blue crab population.”

“The decline of the blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay has had truly devastating environmental and economic impacts in our state. In September, Congress passed legislation making available significant resources to help maintain our commercial fishing infrastructure on the Bay while working to bolster the blue crab population. We urge Secretary Gutierrez to quickly release this funding,” said Congressman Hoyer.

“With a shorter blue crab harvest season than anticipated and a weaker economy, it’s more important to expedite delivery of this $30 million in federal disaster aid to watermen and seafood processing companies,” said Congressman Bartlett. “Helping the people who are the stewards we depend upon to provide a healthier Chesapeake Bay for future generations will strengthen not only the economy of Maryland, but the entire the Mid-Atlantic region.”

“The Maryland Blue Crab is one of the greatest symbols of our State, and its survival is essential to the survival of our State’s economy,” Congressman Cummings said. “The need for the expeditious release of these funds is underscored by the crab season being forced to end early. All of the money in the world could be authorized to help our crabbing industry, but it does no good until it is actually received.”

“The Maryland blue crab is such an important part of the culture and the economy of our state. In recent years, watermen have been hit by the declining crab population in the Chesapeake Bay. These funds will give Maryland watermen and their communities some relief while we work to restore the blue crab population in the Bay,” said Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

“It is imperative that we act quickly to support the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay as we work to counteract the depletion of the blue crab population and revitalize this critical Maryland industry," said Congressman Van Hollen.

“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 hope that the Commerce Department will move quickly to provide one of Maryland's oldest and most important industries assistance in the face of new limits on the crab harvest.”

"I join my congressional colleagues in requesting the expedited release of $30 million in fishery disaster assistance," said Rep. Donna F. Edwards. "These funds are necessary to help minimize the financial impact of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab disaster on our watermen and crabbing industry, and to allow blue crab stocks to recover through necessary environment and habitat restoration. I commend the swift action to address our concern for the long-term health and economic vitality of this nation's largest estuary, The Chesapeake Bay."

Preliminary economic impacts on watermen, harvesters and the processing industry are estimated at $30 million for Maryland and Virginia over the next three years. Funds will be used to provide alternative economic opportunities for watermen and the processing industry, while state regulators work with the industry to rebuild stocks and restructure the fishery. The industry is also eligible for additional federal help through Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants, Small Business Administration (SBA) and Farm Credit System loans and Department of Labor worker training programs.

The delegation’s letter to Secretary Gutierrez is below:

Dear Secretary Gutierrez:

We are writing to request that you expedite the release of $30 million in fishery disaster assistance for the Chesapeake Bay blue crab disaster.

We greatly appreciate your recent disaster declaration, which recognizes the hardships faced by our watermen and crabbing industry due to years of declining crab stocks. Maryland and Virginia have implemented new crabbing limits to help the stocks recover.

Under these emergency limitations, the season for harvesting female crabs in Maryland will close today and in Virginia on October 27, almost two months early. Therefore, it is critical that $30 million in fishery disaster assistance funding be released immediately to help minimize and mitigate the impacts on our watermen and crabbing industry.

Thank you for your support for our watermen and crabbing industry, whose livelihoods depend on the Chesapeake Bay. We look forward to receiving your prompt response.

Source: Office of U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski

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