- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) — A two-state advisory panel created to help manage the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is expected to dissolve this week because of a lack of funding from Virginia.

The Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee will conduct its final formal meeting Tuesday in Annapolis. The committee is composed of legislators, fishery managers and watermen from Virginia and Maryland.

In 1999, the panel 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 by 15 percent, a task completed last year.

The panel’s demise “is going against all we have been working toward in terms of Bay-wide 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.

But Delegate Robert S. Bloxom, Accomack Republican, who co-chaired the committee, said vestiges of regional crab management will stay in place.

The end of the committee “doesn’t mean that the technical work group [on which Lipcius serves] won’t continue to function,” Mr. Bloxom said.

He also said members of a Bay-wide legislative group, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which organized the committee, will likely keep tuned to the crab’s fate.

“All of those legislators there are interested in the crab and the crab industry,” Mr. Bloxom told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Of all forms of Bay life, few have the symbolic and economic strength of the blue crab.

According to the last economic study done in 1994, sales of blue crabs and related products in Virginia totaled $79 million, making it the most valuable commercial fishing resource in Virginia’s side of the Bay.

The committee was created after Virginia and Maryland surveys revealed a long-term drop in the Bay’s crab population after a series of weak annual harvests.

Studies show the number of breeding-age female crabs has dropped 80 percent over the past dozen or so years.

The fishing cuts adopted by both states include a mix of size-limit reductions, workday restrictions and, in Virginia, the creation of a huge sanctuary in the Bay from the Maryland state line south to protect female crabs on their annual spawning run.

The committee expected that the restrictions would double the crab population over time, but it is not clear how both states will hold to that objective once the committee dissolves.

Pat Stuntz, Maryland’s director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, said the committee disbands at a critical time in her state. That’s because a new governor and his appointees in the state’s natural resource department “are working right now to figure out what their policies will be.”

This is the second year Virginia did not contribute to the committee. In 2002, the state’s budget crisis made it impossible to ante up its $150,000 share of the committee’s 2003 budget, Mr. Bloxom said.

Maryland offered $95,000 for the 2004 fiscal year, but it was contingent on Virginia appropriating an equal amount. Mr. Bloxom said continuing budget woes again prevented the Virginia legislature from coming up with the money.

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