Portfolio III: Fisheries and Seafood Production
Targeted Issue: Blue Crab Management
The IssueAt the January, 1999 meeting of the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Maryland Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources requested that the states of Maryland and Virginia contribute $150,000 each to fund a forward-looking view of how to more effectively manage the Chesapeake Bay's $80 million per year blue crab harvest; the aim was to ensure that scientific knowledge would contribute to blue crab management recommendations. To show his commitment to this effort, the Secretary also proposed that Maryland would place a moratorium on developing any major new blue crab regulations until after the two-year project was completed. Both states succeeded in having the funds added to their respective budgets and the two-year study is well underway.
In a second issue related to the viability of Maryland's crab fishery, the Maryland Office of Seafood Marketing in late 1998 contracted with a Washington, D.C. law firm to do an exploratory analysis of the feasibility of filing for trade relief from imported crab meat products. The law firm recommended that the national blue crab industry petition the International Trade Commission for some form of trade relief. In July, the National Blue Crab Industry Association of the National Fisheries Institute met and decided to proceed with the trade relief petition. The ITC has since ruled against the domestic blue crab processors, many of whom say they are facing a difficult future.
Our ResponseMaryland Sea Grant has played a significant role in the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee's Technical Work Group since the group's formation in 1996. Partnering with economists at Virginia Tech and the
To help answer difficult scientific questions about blue crab growth and behavior, Maryland Sea Grant is now funding a project on spatial stock dynamics of blue crab. The principal investigator, Tom Miller (R/F-89), is also a key member of the Technical Work Group. Lipton, Miller and Greer held a workshop at the East Coast Fishermen's Trade Show in 1999 to obtain input from commercial watermen the current status of the fishery. A number of those present communicated that they were working harder, but earning less.
In addition to fluctuating domestic crab stocks, the blue crab industry has felt the effects of imported crab meat entering local markets. Maryland Sea Grant Extension economist Doug Lipton began exploring the issue of crab meat origin and its role in the market in 1992. Maryland Sea Grant published his study Market Needs of Crab meat Dealers: Implications for Maryland's Crab Processing Industry in 1993. That report was followed in 1994 by The Warm water Crab Fishery in Asia: Implications for the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Industry. In November, 1998, Lipton developed a briefing paper on the status of crab meat imports and presented this to the Maryland Seafood Marketing Advisory Committee and an ad hoc group of Maryland crab meat processors. This resulted in $20,000 being allotted to retain a law firm. A survey, conducted to determine production volume and employment, including a breakdown of foreign employment in U.S. plants, provided information that was forwarded to Governor Glendening to help determine the role that Maryland State Agencies should play in this action.
Managing for SuccessBecause of the importance of the blue crab industry to Maryland, Maryland Sea Grant has invested considerable time and energy toward moving both Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee (BBCAC) efforts and the ITC investigation forward. In the case of BBCAC, Sea Grant has worked very closely with the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which has shown political leadership in taking on this issue. The Commission has relied on the facilitation, communication and resource economics expertise available through Sea Grant. In regard to the ITC investigation, Maryland Sea Grant took the lead in contacting and mobilizing Extension efforts in other blue crab producing states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. When the ITC issued a 50-page questionnaire to seafood processors, this network of Sea Grant Extension personnel was able to provide needed assistance to the industry, helping them complete the surveys and ensuring that the ITC would have the best information possible on which to base their decision.
AchievementsLargely because of the efforts of Maryland Sea Grant and others on the Technical Workgroup, BBCAC is now seen as the major venue for articulating recommendations based on the best science and economics available for managing the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. BBCAC efforts now include a comprehensive outreach strategy to ensure that stakeholders are engaged in the decision making process. To assist in this effort, Sea Grant, in cooperation with BBCAC (Chesapeake Bay Commission) and the University of Virginia Institute for Environmental Negotiation, published Managing the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab: A Meeting of Stakeholders, a workshop report that examines stakeholder attitudes and various management options; Sea Grant also published an education brief, Managing and Protecting the Blue Crab, which summarizes key issues in the bay-wide assessment of management options.
Despite the crab meat processors setback in the ITC investigation, the industry is now mobilized to institute a major marketing effort based on the attributes of domestically produced crab meat. At the same time, Sea Grant has been working with some of the major crab meat importers to find common ground in supporting the crab meat industry. A meeting of crab biologists in Maryland, organized by Maryland Sea Grant, helped to develop a set of research priorities that will aid our understanding of the resource. A second meeting of crab meat processors will help determine precisely what kinds of assistance the industry now requires.
ImpactsThis activity is a work in progress, and the impacts will develop over the next couple of years. In terms of blue crab management, a positive impact will likely be the adoption of management thresholds and targets and the use of innovative management strategies to reach those goals. The result would be a healthier crab resource and a more profitable crab industry, a major step forward, and a very worthwhile outcome for the investment of limited Sea Grant resources.