- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Licensed commercial crabbers who have spent at least 100 days during the year on the job will receive a second handout from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR has $1.2million in relief funds for those who have had a bad time catching the same blue-clawed delicacies that have been over-harvested for decades. Not only that, if you run a seafood store and haven’t had enough crabs to sell or are involved in promoting the consumption of crabs, tell the state that you, too, want a check.

The $1.2 million in state funding was allocated earlier this year to watermen affected by three consecutive poor crabbing seasons. “Qualified crab harvesters who received a check earlier this year will automatically receive a second $500 grant,” said Mike Slattery, assistant secretary for Forests, Parks, Wildlife and Fisheries. “[The] DNR, along with Governor [Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.], is committed to doing everything we can to help our watermen through this rough patch.”

The funding was a part of an appropriations resolution passed by Congress and signed by President Bush earlier this year. Maryland representatives on the state and federal level were instrumental in ensuring the funding was available to help the people who were affected by reduced harvests and sales of blue crabs.

A total of $5 million was appropriated, to be divided between Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey and Virginia according to the amount of catch reported in each state. That, however, can backfire. Quite a few of the commercial crabbers under-report their catches, not to mention under-reporting personal incomes that are hard to trace because most crabs are sold for cash. No checks, please.

Now imagine you’re a barber who hasn’t attracted enough customers to his shop. Could you ask the state to help you with life’s necessities? The government bureaucrats would laugh like hyenas. And suppose you’re a full-time charter fishing captain who has had a tough time. Can you apply for public assistance? No such luck. (Incidentally, the sport anglers of Maryland and Virginia, which includes the charter fishing customers, bring far more to either state’s economic table than the commercial fishermen.)

Why does a state government single out one particular segment of its population and insist on using taxpayers’ money to help it, while dozens of other industry and private segments are having just as hard a time earning a living? Isn’t it understood that if you pick the crabbing trade, you know from the outset that life on the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers isn’t free of uncertainties? Not only that, the crabbers may have themselves to blame for the nosedive their prey has taken.

Crab numbers have declined tremendously because the crabbers removed far too many male and female crabs every year. A day of reckoning was sure to come.

Meanwhile, Maryland says cool, wet spring weather contributed significantly to lower crab harvests. DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks said his department might pay watermen to help with Bay grass plantings and collection of blue crab statistics, both of which will strengthen the overall health and management of the species. In addition, the DNR also will fund other work to support the crabbing industry, including product and processing improvement.

One thing is certain: Throwing money at the people who are a big part of the problem to start with doesn’t amount to a cure.

Disabled hunters ask for help — The Coalition for Disabled Hunter Rights is campaigning to end disability discrimination in the woods. It wants the federal government to require all 50 states to legalize crossbows, modified-bows, body braces and mouth-tabs for disabled archery hunters. Discrimination complaints have been filed against Alaska, California, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia.

The coalition’s complaint was filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It now rests with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — the agency that controls federal funding to state wildlife and has to make sure that such funds are used in a nondiscriminatory manner.

E-mails of support should be sent to [email protected] or send regular mail to Division of Federal Assistance, 4401 North Fairfax Dr., Mail Stop MBSP-4020, Arlington, VA 22203.

The Coalition for Disabled Hunter Rights’ Web page can be reached at disabledrights.org.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected].

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