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Volume 16, Issue 40 - October 2 - October 8, 2008

Just Another Bailout

We’re in the same (leaky) boat as Chesapeake shellfish

Unleash the pit bulls, or better yet, their lobbyists.
–Cliff Dean, Annapolis: Aug. 25, ’08.

Mighty strong words are those penned to me by Cliff Dean, who moved to the Little Magothy with wife Pat and three sons in 1978. “We have, as you report in your Bay Weekly article, witnessed the demise of the Bay right before our eyes.

“It is now for all intents and purposes dead, but no one wants to bury the Bay. They continue to talk about reviving it by 2010. What planet are these people living on?”

Whew. In a few sentences, Dean sums up the helplessness, frustration and downright anger of many of us in Chesapeake Country. It’s obvious whether one scoots out on the water to try and catch a few crabs and fish or shops in a market for same. Crabs, oysters and clams have become, as old-time New Englanders might say, very dear.

With shellfish, which any baby boomer or older can recall as once bountiful and affordable, it has become a disaster. That’s a word that even in my most frustrated moments, I have avoided punching into my computer when assessing the Chesapeake.

Disaster is an exceptionally strong word. It doesn’t leave any room for hope.

When an e-mail arrived last week from the U.S. Department of Commerce, I first noted the headline: Commerce Secretary Determines Blue Crab Disaster in Chesapeake Bay. Appropriate, I thought. At last someone of authority is concerned enough to call a spade a spade. Maybe this will be the impetus to facing up to the disaster of not only crabs but also the Chesapeake Bay itself. I should have stopped reading.

Alas, this was no declaration of oversight. In the seventh paragraph it was noted that Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez acted upon the request of the governors of Maryland and Virginia who were concerned about the economic impact on the crab fishery in both states. The declaration was described as an “important step in making watermen and their communities eligible for economic assistance.”

Here we go again. It isn’t the dismal plight of the blue crab that grabs the spotlight. It’s the economy, stupid.

Bailout Is the Word

Can you believe it? We’ve got fisheries in deep doodoo, and the disaster is not that — but the economic loss of those who plundered as long as they could.

For well more than 20 years with crabs, oysters and clams, we’ve seen the handwriting on the wall: We’re catching too much to safeguard dwindling stocks. But every effort by Maryland Department of Natural Resources to curb some of the harvest has been rebuffed by those doing the catching and their lobbyists and delegates, senators and the higher ups. Facing up to reality is expensive in both money and votes.

Bailout is the word these days in business and economy. Those who blunder in blatant greed are forgiven, even rewarded. The skies are filled with golden parachutes. Despite much talk, no one of authority seems willing to shoot them down.

The craziness is not confined to Wall Street. It’s right here in our back yard, the no longer resilient Chesapeake Bay. Those who make the decisions figure it more important to spend to bail out the perpetrators than it is to use the same funds for restoration.

If Not Now, When?

When will the Bay itself and its aquatic life get the attention it needs and must have if we are to turn things around?

When today’s disaster was in the making, we were enjoying the good times. We had a strong economy, a few dips here and there, but the charts showed an appreciable long-term rise. Life was milk and honey: Citizens spent as if there was no tomorrow on expensive gas-guzzling vehicles and big homes with all the amenities.

Good as the times were, where was the money for decisive action to forestall disaster in the Chesapeake? Stingy legislators and governors found other uses for funds for programs, including development. Don’t blame DNR and its managers and scientists. They — to put things in perspective — were given a shovel and told to dig the Holland Tunnel.

Today, the stock market and economy are crashing at the same time as the shellfish of the Chesapeake — and probably the Bay itself. People are losing their jobs, retirement funds, homes, some even their big SUVs. And more than a few economists tell us things could get even worse.

So where amidst all this economic turmoil do you think Bay restoration will rank? If you know the answer, it’s not a question.

Shameful are the opportunities we squandered when the economy was flush. Our shortsightedness resulted in neglect. Now, with virtually no chances for corrective funding, our Bay and shellfish are going to hell.

If it’s disaster for the marine life of the Bay, what is it for us? We’ve been aware of the consequences of global warming for years. But our leaders worldwide have ignored it for the time being. Implementing corrective measures would be too costly, would slow the economy. We’ll get to that later.

Later Is Now

Later is here. And now. Here and now, when the entire world is in an economic slump. So can we here and now expect nations more concerned with their economies to make the economic sacrifices essential to turn global warming around?

Do you get the feeling we’re in the same boat as the shellfish of the Chesapeake?

Time to unleash the pit bulls.

Enough said.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.