Watermen acknowledge that the [Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab] population is dangerously low, with poor harvests for about a decade. But they say the limits on sooks [female crabs], commonly used for crab cakes and crab soups prized by diners, will put many out of business.
Lesson 1: Maryland crab cakes* are among the yummiest foods anywhere.
Fishery managers are trying to convince watermen that the cuts, though painful, will lead to a revived crab population and a stronger industry.
Lesson 2: The Chesapeake crab fishery is open access.
Open access is another word for no property rights. Lack of property
rights leads to overfishing. Overfishing leads to low stocks. Low
stocks leads to lower catch. Lower catch leads to less money for
crabbers and fewer crabs for me.
"All of our data tells us this approach will give us our best chance of turning around these low populations in the bay as quickly as possible," said John Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
But the watermen said they fear many won't survive for the undetermined number of years it will take for the crab population to recover.
Lesson 3: Long term fishery sustainability and short term fisher viability are often conflicting goals.
Griffith gestured to his colleagues and said watermen are suffering because of larger causes of the crab decline.
"The commercial industry knows that change is coming, that crabs are disappearing," he said. "But the problem is pollution in the bay, pollution and sediment. The crabs are going away, but it ain't these guys' fault."
Lesson 4: When in doubt, blame someone else.
*If you are ever in a non-Maryland restaurant and see 'Maryland Crab Cakes' on he menu, proceed with caution. Ask questions. A true Maryland Crab Cake has one main ingredient...crab. A little egg, a little mayonnaise, a little mustard, a little (very little) breading to hold things together, a healthy dose of Old Bay seasoning and that's about it. No vegetables (celery, red peppers, onions, yuck).