Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why We Stopped Eating Crabs

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently published a report that for the first time links the decline of Blue Crabs in Maryland and Virginia waters to poor water quality.

The state of the blue crab has been declared a disaster, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Environmental Protection agency after decades of empty promises from state and federal officials who claim to support cleaning up the Bay even while it collapses.

Among the report's findings:

* Pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous create large "dead zones" in the bay that annually wipe out 75,000 tons of clams and worms at the bottom of the Bay where crabs would otherwise feed. That's enough food to support 60 million blue crabs, or about half the Bay's commercial crab harvest.

* Sediment from runoff and algal blooms from pollutants kill the underwater grasses that baby crabs need to hide from predators. More than half the Bay's eelgrass has died since the 1970s.

* Because the Bay supports fewer crabs, overfishing has become an even greater problem. Watermen have caught an average 62 percent of the total blue crab population in the Bay every year for the last decade, far more than the 46 percent that scientists say is sustainable.

"In 2007, watermen suffered the worst crab harvest since Bay-wide record keeping began in 1945," the report states. "2008 was even worse in Virginia, and only slightly better in Maryland. Maryland and Virginia have endured more than $640 million in losses over the last decade because of the crab's decline. The states are taking immediate steps to prevent a potential collapse of the fishery. On October 23, 2008, Maryland banned the commercial harvest of female crabs until spring, and Virginia imposed the same prohibitions on October 27."

Now there's something to think about next time you reach for that bag of Scott's Turf Builder (40 percent nitrogen) to beef up your lawn. Better idea: turn your lawn into a vegetable garden and feed it with compost.

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