A 1995 Chesapeake Bay Foundation failure led to the blue crab crisis. Now that I've got your attention, let me explain.
In 1995, the CBF led a campaign to reduce the catch of female blue crabs because we and others foresaw a looming crisis on the Bay.
Unfortunately, our recommendations and lobbying efforts were not successful. In fact, we were pretty well branded as "chicken littles."
Emotions ran so high that some of our staff received death threats and a CBF education center building was torched.
We pushed on, believing that early action could prevent a crisis situation from developing. If that were to occur, we forecast that only draconian measures would be able to reverse the decline. That time may now be here.
We cannot afford to let the iconic blue crab go the way of the oyster. In 2007 dollars, the dockside value of the fishery has plummeted from more than $250 million annually to $125 million annually.
But even more than its economic value, the abundance of the blue crab is a metaphor for our rich environmental, cultural and even historic heritage.
The blue crab harvest has provided fare for tourist-attracting restaurants, been the economic backbone of entire communities such as Smith and Tangier Islands, and has even been the basis for a slogan, "Maryland is for crabs."
What will Maryland say if they are lost? "Maryland is for hotdogs?" From the Susquehanna Valley to the Virginia capes, crabs have been a part of summer traditions.
The immediacy of the problem has caught the attention of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. The best scientific minds are telling the governors that a minimum 34 percent catch reduction of female crabs is necessary to avert a further decline.
Many commercial watermen now agree that something must be done.
The problem is, of course, far bigger than the blue crab, which is just the canary in the coal mine. While harvest reductions will result in more crabs in the Bay, a long-term sustainable fishery will require water quality improvements through dramatic reductions in pollution.
Why we humans wait for a crisis before taking action is a question for psychologists, but it has surely played itself out on the Chesapeake Bay. Even with precise science and available technology, elected officials have not flexed the political muscle to reduce pollution faster than population growth has increased it.
Just as the CBF was dismissed as a fearmonger in 1995, so too are calls for fundamental pollution reduction being largely ignored today. What will it take to really get adequate laws, regulations and funding in place?
Unless governments accelerate pollution reduction plans, we may soon see far worse. Any water contact could be unhealthy. All fish and shellfish consumption could be banned for human health concerns. Drinking water from surface and groundwater sources could be contaminated. The smell of waters devoid of oxygen could be so widespread as to drive tourists away. The value of waterfront property could plummet with disastrous results on the property tax base. The thousands of companies who use Chesapeake in their name could be forced to change for marketing purposes.
One can only imagine what measures government might be forced to impose if such conditions occurred.
We ignore warning signs at our peril. In 1995, we were told the blue crab would never crash in the (foreseeable) future. Sometimes the (unforeseeable) future gets here quicker than we would like.