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CHESAPEAKE BAY-Watermen Fear Blue Crab Not Coming Back-HISTORY OF BAY

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Author Topic: CHESAPEAKE BAY-Watermen Fear Blue Crab Not Coming Back-HISTORY OF BAY  (Read 439 times)
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« on: July 16, 2008, 10:15:09 am »

Plummer has wanted to crab since he was a boy, but is instead headed to community college this fall, at the urging of Kellam and his parents.

Even scientists who called for the harvest reductions say overfishing isn't entirely to blame.

The main culprit is water pollution and soil runoff from development throughout a watershed that is home to 10 million people. Excess nutrients wash into the Chesapeake, causing algae blooms and choking the native plant life that crabs rely on for food and habitat. In the summer, large swaths of the Chesapeake contain so little oxygen that scientists call them "dead zones," because few critters can live there.

Watermen call it "bad water," and they track it all summer, following crabs as they skitter to shallower water that contains more oxygen. Even when watermen luck out and pull up a pot full of crabs, long-timers say the crabs are nothing like they used to be.

"Sometimes in the summer, you pull the pots up, they've got algae and mud all over them. The bad water comes in and coats everything and the crabs can't stand it," Kellam explains.

He now spends hours hauling up the same number of crabs he could catch in a few pots a decade ago. And what he catches isn't as healthy-looking as the crabs he caught as a boy. Wholesalers are buying them anyway.

"They're buying a lot of stuff that 10 years ago they would've turned away," Kellam says.

Maryland and Virginia officials have responded to the watermen's plight by asking the federal government for a disaster declaration that would free up about $20 million to subsidize crabbers and seafood processors until blue crabs rebound.

Maryland is also working on sweeping revisions to state planning laws with an eye toward protecting its 3,000 or so miles of shoreline. Already this year, the state toughened zoning laws dealing with development closest to the water, a law that aims to reduce sediment and pollution running into the Chesapeake and its tributaries.

"It's certainly getting more difficult to make a living on the water," conceded Lynn Fegley, a biologist in charge of crabs for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. But Fegley says the cynicism along the Chesapeake is unfounded. There will always be Chesapeake blue crabs, she says — as long as watermen lay off them when the stock dips.

"As the watershed gets more crowded, the face of the fishery may change. But people are always going to want seafood, right? It's healthy and it's delicious. What we have to do is find a way to harvest seafood that's sustainable for the future," Fegley says.

But Thomas Courtney, who sells Kellam the alewife fish he uses for bait, laughs when asked whether state efforts to revive blue crabs will bring them back.

"It ain't what we're pulling out of the water. It's what we're putting in the water," says Courtney, 62. "You've got a cornfield, 20 acres, you put 80 or 90 houses on it, hook 'em up to sewer pipes, put roads and ditches down.

That's what's destroyed the bay.

It ain't us.

They let development take over and then, that's it, we're done."
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