- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Here’s an idea that should earn Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley a pat on the back.

His Department of Natural Resources and something known as the Oyster Recovery Partnership will hire as many as 600 commercial crabbers and fishermen to work on oyster bar restoration. O’Malley’s plan is to help lessen the financial losses the watermen say they suffered when the state’s blue crab population took a nosedive. About 84 of the commercial crabbers will be used for necessary, land-based work.

I find nothing wrong with that, although one sportfishing acquaintance said, “These guys greatly overharvested the crabs year after year, then the fishery nearly collapsed and now the state will make sure that the very people who caused it get a paycheck supplied by the taxpayers.”

However, O’Malley said, “United with the Maryland Watermen’s Association and the Oyster Recovery Partnership, we’re keeping Maryland watermen working and protecting the viability of local businesses that rely on blue crabs while giving the species time to rebuild.”

More than 100 watermen have started to recover and clean some 100 acres of oyster bars in Tangier Sound and the Patuxent and Severn rivers. The watermen used their boats and commercial dredge equipment to rid the oyster beds of mounds of silt and sediment, which hopefully will make the beds healthy again. They will receive natural oyster spat or hatchery seed plantings that ought to be productive in time.

Said Calvert County Waterman’s Association President Tommy Zinn, who was in charge of the Patuxent River work crews, “This is a good program that’s helping the heart of crabbers.”

The Natural Resources people said the Chesapeake Bay has been losing as much as 2,600 acres of hard bottom oyster habitat every year. It is hoped that the watermen will reclaim at least 1,000 acres of oyster reefs.

As for the beleaguered blue crab population, O’Malley has the cooperation of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to try to restore the Chesapeake’s crab numbers to high levels. They agreed to reduce the 2008 harvest of female crabs by 34 percent.

In September, the governors asked for and received a declaration from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service that a federal fishery disaster exists for the Chesapeake Bay’s watermen who have suffered economic hardships because of low and unstable blue crab numbers. The current downward slide of the economy hasn’t helped, either.

- The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, a national association that fights to protect the rights of hunters, anglers and trappers, is dismayed over news that U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, will replace Rep. John Dingell, Michigan Democrat, as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Dingell has been a champion of sportsmen issues for decades, the Alliance said; Waxman has a long history of supporting the causes of animal rights and anti-firearm groups.

“Rep. Dingell understood and cared about sportsmen and their devotion to conservation,” said Rob Sexton, USSA vice president of government affairs. “On the other hand, Rep. Waxman, an environmental activist, has consistently earned a 100 percent rating from the leading anti-hunting group in the country, the Humane Society of the United States, which has sought to use the Endangered Species Act to stop hunting.”

Waxman has also been a consistent opponent of Second Amendment rights, Sexton said. The USSA noted that hunters, anglers and other sportsmen play a major role in the economy through purchases of hunting and fishing equipment; they also play a decisive role in maintaining conservation efforts through federal and state taxes on equipment.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes. com. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be seen on www.washingtontimes.com.

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