- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Go ahead and call me a cynic, but if you believe the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population has accomplished a sudden, miraculous turnaround, there’s a bridge I want to sell you.

In case you’ve just returned from a trip to the moon and haven’t heard, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine last week announced that all is well. The Bay’s blue crab numbers have increased substantially from last year, and all appears to be wonderful.

Or is it?

Doesn’t it appear odd that Maryland, especially, made such a huge fuss about a near collapse of the blue crab population in recent years, and now - magically - the blue-clawed delicacies are the comeback kids in the saltwater world?

Let’s leave out state offices for a moment because they often act as if it is their sacred assignment to provide a living for the Chesapeake’s watermen, when it really shouldn’t be. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, for example, should have only one mission: to protect, at all costs, all of our natural resources - the crab included. Instead, there appears to be an odd relationship between the Maryland and Virginia seafood industry and government offices that shouldn’t even think about making anybody happy but the living creatures they’re supposed to take care of. Also remember two-thirds of the fishing income made by watermen in the Bay depends on the blue crab.

The Blue Ocean Institute, an East Norwich, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization, said recently: “A survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science showed the number of adult crabs at about 120 million adults. In the 11 years from 1997 through 2007, the number of adult crabs averaged 150 million. In contrast, adult crab abundance averaged about 300 million between 1990 and 1996.”

In other words, the crab numbers were way down.

Now comes the joint Maryland-Virginia report that says because of recent management measures put into place only a year ago, the total estimate of crabs “overwintering in the Chesapeake Bay during 2008-2009 has increased from 280 million in 2007-2008 to just over 400 million.”

Wow - what a jump in crabs!

The states said the increase in abundance is because of a huge increase in the number of adult females. They say the female crab population has nearly doubled. If true, that’s wonderful news and should be an incentive to protect female crabs far more stringently than ever before. It is they who can guarantee future generations of blue crabs. Without them, things are bleak indeed.

Meanwhile, let’s see what happens to crab prices this year. In 2008, it wasn’t unusual for a bushel of No. 1 Jimmies (male crabs) to retail for as much as $150 to $180.

Black drum championship - The Eastern Shore of Virginia Chamber of Commerce invites anglers to the third annual Black Drum World Championship Fishing Tournament, May 15-17. The contest will be headquartered at Bay Creek Marina in Cape Charles.

Registration forms are available by going to www.esvachamber.org/festivals/drumfish or at the Chamber of Commerce building in Melfa, as well as at a number of Eastern Shore tackle shops. If you register by May 1, you’ll pay only $200 per boat (includes up to six anglers) instead of the $250 required later. No registrations will be accepted after 5 p.m. May 15.

Cash prizes totaling $6,000 and trophies will be presented to the top three teams of the tournament.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected] Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/sports.

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