With many Bay issues being resolved by political bodies—from local government zoning and stormwater decisions to state and federal environmental programs—a political scientist has stepped in to help fill the information void that exists about political newcomers.

Howard Ernst, associate professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy, this year launched the Blue Crab Project, which assesses whether political challengers facing incumbents or seeking open seats are what he considers to be a “Bay safe” choice.

Ernst, who is author of “Chesapeake Bay Blues,” a book examining political issues affecting the Chesapeake’s restoration, launched the initiative out of frustration with most mainstream environmental groups for failing to endorse or promote candidates.

It’s an all-volunteer effort led by Ernst, with others helping though such actions as maintaining a web site, designing a logo and printing “support blue crab candidate” bumper stickers.

Candidates must be nominated for the distinction, after which Ernst conducts a review of any public records, interviews the candidates if necessary, and asks other environmental leaders to comment on the candidate’s credentials.

The Blue Crab distinction is an assessment, not an endorsement. “In a typical endorsement, a person chooses sides in a race,” Ernst said. “We have had cases where more than one candidate in a race was selected as a Blue Crab. The Blue Crab distinction is more like the “dolphin safe” logo on a can of tuna than a typical political endorsement. It tells voters that a candidate is ‘Chesapeake Bay Safe.’”

The project does not make any assessment of incumbents. Ernst said that’s because incumbents have track records. Challengers often do not, so the project seeks to fill that information void for the voting public. Also, Ernst said, he is trying to promote a new generation of political leadership.

“While there are certainly some strong environmental advocates in elected office, the fact is that there are far too few of them,” he said. “At the end of the day, incumbents are responsible for the current state of the Bay.”

Although the project is restricted to Maryland for now, it could expand if there is help in the future, Ernst said. “The project was born from volunteer labor and is fueled by volunteer labor,” he said. “If volunteers will it, the project will continue to grow.”

About of half the 19 Blue Crab candidates won their primary races in September, which Ernst called “phenomenal” because several were facing incumbents.

For information on the project, visit www.bluecrabproject.org