ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service has awarded the State of Maryland $10 million in federal fishery disaster funding to help rescue Maryland's beleaguered Chesapeake Bay blue crab industry. Earlier this year, Governor Martin O'Malley worked closely with Maryland's Congressional Delegation to help secure a federal fisheries disaster declaration for the fishery and funding to mitigate the losses of the men and women the industry supports.
"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 by Governor O'Malley and the members of the Maryland General Assembly 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. I will continue to lead Team Maryland in our efforts to protect the Bay and those whose livelihoods depend on 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. 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, Governor O'Malley also plans to expand opportunity for prospective shellfish growers to establish aquaculture businesses in Marylandwaters by establishing Aquaculture Enterprise Zones.
"The restoration of the blue crab population is not only critical to the Maryland crabbing industry, but also vital to the health of the Chesapeake Bayecosystem," stated Representative Hoyer. "My colleagues in the Maryland Congressional Delegation and I have worked hard with Governor O'Malley on efforts to restore the blue crab, and I am pleased to learn that Maryland will receive $10 million in funding for this purpose."
"The Maryland blue crab is such an important part of our state's culture and economy but the industry is facing tough times," said Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Member of the House Appropriations Committee. "These funds will bring some much needed relief to Maryland watermen who depend on the industry for their livelihood. I applaud our team effort to get these funds quickly to the families and communities who need them.
The O'Malley-Brown Administration took historic action, in cooperation 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 September 2008, in response to a request from Governors O'Malley and Kaine, and advocacy by the Congressional Delegation, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service declared a federal fishery disaster for Chesapeake Bay watermen and women who have suffered economic hardships due to the extremely low and unstable blue crab abundance as well as the downturn in the national economy. Maryland currently has 5,931 licensed commercial crabbers.