Top 25 things vanishing from America: # 19 -- Maryland blue crabs

This series explores aspects of America that may soon be just a memory -- some to be missed, some gladly left behind. From the least impactful to the most, here are 25 bits of vanishing America.

Maryland's icon, the blue crab, has been fading away in Chesapeake Bay. Last year Maryland saw the lowest harvest (22 million pounds) since 1945. Just four decades ago the bay produced 96 million pounds. The situation has gotten so bad that Maryland and Virginia are working together on the problem, cutting the harvest by about one-third this year.

The blue crab population in Chesapeake Bay is down 70% since 1990, when they first did a formal count. There are only about 120 million crabs in the bay and they think they need 200 million for a sustainable population. Overfishing, pollution, invasive species and global warming get the blame. Hotter water means there's less eel grass, where the blue crabs like to hide. Senators from Maryland and Virginia want $20 million for the crisis, but they're more worried about helping the ailing watermen than the crab population. The watermen tell Newsday they're also hurting because the lousy economy mean fewer people have $200 for a bushel of crabs.

Everyone hopes the blue crab won't go the way of the bay's oyster, which has all but disappeared. Locals have been eating the blue crabs for centuries--though only the boys actually have blue claws; the girls have red-tinged ones. People outside the Delmarva Peninsula didn't get to enjoy them until train shipping came in 1873, followed by canning. The crab pot made catching easier than the trot line. With faster shipping the whole country learned to enjoy Maryland Blue Crabs. Now they may become even more precious.

Update: The federal government has granted the state requests for $20 million to combat the dropoff in the blue crab population.

Read the entire series


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