Volume XI, Issue 29 ~ July 17-23, 2003

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This Government Cutback Makes Us Crabby

It’s always seemed to us that cooperation is the best path forward. So we are disappointed at the collapse of the Bi-state Blue Crab Advisory Committee for want of a tiny amount of money that amounts to pocket change in state budgets.

In case you missed it, Virginia declined to ante up its $95,000 to keep the seven-year-old panel afloat. Then Maryland said that our state won’t contribute any money, either.

When you’re talking state budgets, that much money is a joke.

But sacrificing a prime forum for solving our vexing crab problem is nothing to joke about.

Crabs have grown so scarce in Chesapeake Bay that at times they virtually disappear, watermen tell us. The most recent harvest is roughly half what it was two decades ago. But with so many agendas and so much politics at play, it’s hard to know whether Maryland’s most valuable fishery is truly in collapse.

One thing we do know is that the Atlantic blue crab adheres to no boundary line between Maryland and Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay. Our crab population is theirs, and vice versa.

Syndicated columnist Neal Peirce and other of our best thinkers about the art of governing have long advocated a regional approach as the best way to solve problems. Too often, jurisdictions get in the way of solutions. But unlike crabs, politicians feel a need to operate within clearly defined boundaries as a means to keep control.

The bi-state crab committee had no formal role or political power other than offering advice. But that advice was sound. Four years ago, the panel came up with the first reliable crab census that provided evidence of trouble.

And two years ago, the panel calculated wisely that 15 percent harvest reductions were needed if Maryland and Virginia wanted to get serious about recovering the species. Both states reached those reduction levels last year, and there’s hope that the recently improved count of two-inch crabs in the Bay means that better times are ahead. But in this new go-it-alone climate, who can say whether the two states will remain on the same page.

It’s not always easy to find successes in government, but this cooperative venture was one. The end of the Blue Crab Advisory Committee can be viewed as yet another price of the federal tax cuts that have plunged state and local governments into the red.

We understand the sentiments behind trying to shrink government. But in the case of the soon-to-be defunct Bi-state Blue Crab Advisory Committee, government has been squeezed in the wrong place at the wrong time.



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Last updated July 17, 2003 @ 2:03am