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NOAA OKs $10M for Maryland watermen crab relief
Friday January 23, 8:17 am ET
By Alex Dominguez, Associated Press Writer
Maryland senators say NOAA approves $10 million disaster relief funding for watermen

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The first installment of $10 million in disaster relief for Maryland watermen and others affected by the decline of the Chesapeake Bay's crab fishery has been approved, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.
NOAA sent Maryland a letter this week informing the state that $2.2 million of the $10 million in the three-year relief plan has been approved, NOAA spokeswoman Monica Allen said.

Maryland will receive the remaining installments if it complies with environmental and other provisions in its plan, Allen said.

NOAA announced in November that Maryland and Virginia would each be eligible for $10 million to help those affected by the failure of the Chesapeake Bay's soft shell and peeler blue crab fishery. The two states were required to submit plans outlining how the funds would be used.

The federal agency is working with Virginia on its plan and hopes to "move on that quickly as well," Allen said.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said the "funds will help soften the blow of years of shrinking crab harvests and provide opportunities to the watermen who have been affected by it."

Virginia and Maryland asked in May for a disaster declaration for the blue crab fishery and in September NOAA issued a declaration for the soft-shell fishery, saying its harvest value had declined by 41 percent from the late 1990s. While both hard- and soft-shell crabs are harvested, NOAA determined the soft-shell industry had suffered more.

The two states have seen harvests drop precipitously due to overfishing and pollution and in response have cut the female crab harvest more than a third and shortened the season. Virginia has also banned winter crab dredging, which was already banned in Maryland.

Similar disaster declarations have also been made in the past several years for the Chinook salmon fishery in the Pacific Northwest, where a salmon collapse prompted a total harvesting ban. Chesapeake senators argued that the blue crab fishery deserved similar aid.

Allen said a major goal of the plan, in addition to crab restoration, was economic diversification to provide opportunities that will enable watermen to continue to work and invest in coastal communities. Projects funded under the plan include oyster aquaculture, removal of derelict crab pots that can kills crabs that are never harvested, and maritime and heritage tourism training, Allen said.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said watermen are in desperate need of the relief, noting the blue crab population has declined 70 percent since the 1990s, affecting the bay and the state's economy.

"This emergency funding will help ensure the survival of Maryland's crabbing industry and will lead to improved management to help rejuvenate the blue crab population," Cardin said.
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