Feds Award Maryland $10 Million for Ailing Blue Crab Industry

Funds to be Used for Habitat Restoration and New Economic Opportunities

ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 1, 2009) — Call it what you will—a bailout, a rescue, federal aid, or a government subsidy—the federal government recently awarded the State of Maryland $10 million in federal fishery disaster funding to help rescue Maryland’s beleaguered Chesapeake Bay blue crab industry. The local crabbing, fishing, and oyster industries have become more and more economically unviable in recent years as pollution, disease, and overharvesting take their toll on our natural seafood resources.

The award comes via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service. Maryland's Dept. of Natural Resources applied for the grant under the auspices of Sections 312 and 315 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as amended by the Reauthorization Act of 2006. The acts provide for the declaration, by the Secretary of Commerce, of a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster.

Governor Martin O’Malley worked with Maryland’s Congressional Delegation to help secure a federal fisheries disaster declaration for the fishery and funding to mitigate the losses to the industry.

“We are grateful to NOAA for making these funds available and are especially appreciative of the concerted efforts of our Congressional Delegation – especially Senator Barbara Mikulski, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in making this critical funding possible,” said Governor O’Malley. “The State of Maryland will invest this money in the essential habitat restoration projects and new economic opportunities that will help rebuild our blue crab population and ensure a stronger industry for the future.”

The federal funding augments the $3 million in State capital funding set aside last year to employ watermen and provide financial assistance to seafood businesses affected by the crab decline.

“Last May, I stood with Maryland’s watermen and promised to stand up for them as they face a potential disaster to their way of life,” said Senator Mikulski, Chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee. “Now these funds will help soften the blow of years of shrinking crab harvests and provide opportunities to the watermen who have been affected by it.”

Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) managers recently met with NOAA representatives to outline the State’s plans to use the funds over the next three years. According to DNR officials, the plans include:

-- Focusing on aquaculture and tourism to create new long-term economic opportunities and industry diversification. Funds will be made available for regional and onsite training and scholarships for aquaculture related college courses.

-- Investing in new processing methods such as improved shell removal from crabmeat and innovative and safe packaging design to improve the economic viability and product quality of Maryland’s crab processing industry.

-- Supporting habitat restoration, blue crab monitoring and research, and regulatory enforcement.

-- Hiring watermen to remove lost or abandoned crab pots from local waters that damage sensitive habitats, blue crabs and other fish.

-- Engaging commercial crabbers in cooperative blue crab monitoring and research projects.

-- Restructuring the fishery to provide longer term predictability and greater market stability for the regional industry. A voluntary reduction of commercial crabbers offers greater flexibility, predictability and security for full time watermen and a more stable and sustainable blue crab fishery.

This year, Maryland also plans to expand opportunity for prospective shellfish growers to establish aquaculture businesses in Maryland waters by establishing Aquaculture Enterprise Zones.


Details of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Proposal for the NOAA Grant

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