The bi-state advisory panel created to help manage the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population came to an end in July because of a lack of funding.
The Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee, composed of legislators, fishery managers, and watermen from Maryland and Virginia conducted its final formal meeting July 8 in Annapolis after a seven-year effort to coordinate Baywide management of the most valuable Chesapeake fishery.
The panel’s demise ”is going against all we have been working toward in terms of Baywide cooperation,“ said Rom Lipcius, a Virginia Institute of Marine Science crab expert who belonged to a work group of scientists that reported to the committee.
The group was formed in 1996 by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the Bay states, to help coordinate fishery management after several years of poor crab harvests.
In 1999, it produced a sobering population study that showed the crab was on the brink of being overfished. That warning moved Virginia and Maryland to each cut fishing effort by 15 percent, a task completed last year. The goal of the action is to double the crab’s spawning population over time.
The most recent monitoring data show that crabs remain on the brink of being overfished, although some indicators seemed to improve in the past year, signaling that the effects of the regulations are beginning to have an impact.
The commission, with support from the Maryland and Virginia Sea Grant programs and perhaps others, plans to keep a scientific technical workgroup operating which includes scientists from universities and state agencies.
The group will issues reports about issues affecting crab management, perform independent analyses of crab data, and seek scientific consensus on issues, said Ann Swanson, executive director of the commission.
“We can look at the crab Baywide and attempt to determine if we are doing enough, or at least the right things, to sustain its population,” she said.
What will be lost is the face-to-face meetings among fishery managers and stakeholder groups who sought to tackle difficult decisions.
“Virginia and Maryland have fought over the Bay’s resources for centuries, but the committee broke new ground in the way we manage our shared natural resources,” said Bill Goldsborough, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a member of the committee.
“It’s easy to take for granted the success BBCAC had in creating a collaborative spirit, but it’s even easier to drop back and lose that critical element,” he said.
The full blue crab committee was disbanded after Virginia failed to contribute to its operation for the second year in a row.
In 2002, the state’s budget crisis made it impossible to ante up its $150,000 share of the committee's 2003 budget, Bloxom said. Maryland offered $95,000 for the 2004 fiscal year, but it was contingent on Virginia appropriating an equal amount.
The Bay commission kept the blue crab committee operating with its own budget last year, but was not able to do so again this year after Virginia’s legislature failed to allot money for a second straight year.
During its existence, Swanson said, the crab committee had received a combined total of $300,000 from both states.