Love crabs? Don't eat them

The Baltimore Sun

My Chesapeake Bay crab boycott continues in 2009. I have neither purchased nor accepted a live blue crab from a roadside vendor or neighborhood chicken-necker since June 1999. I have neither cooked nor consumed crab meat from Mencken's great protein factory - at least knowingly - since the crab population appeared to be in collapse. I again implore my fellow Marylanders to do the same.

And it is well past time for the governors of Virginia and Maryland to declare a moratorium on the harvest.

Let's give the stressed-out blue crab a rest.

Go with a moratorium. Let's see what happens. It worked for the rockfish. It can't hurt the crab.

And it doesn't have to hurt the crabbers, either. The state can hire them to plant thousands of trees on land along waters that flow to the bay. The value of that investment would far surpass the short-term costs in public funds.

I have pressed this message in columns on the local news pages of The Baltimore Sun for a decade, and today, with my first appearance here, I bring it to the Sunday Commentary page.

Last week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued another grim assessment of the blue crab. Pollution and overharvesting have caused devastating declines, the CBF said, with the crab population dropping from about 790 million in 1990 to about 260 million at the end of 2007. Watermen and crabbers have taken too many crabs - and females, in particular - while the rest of us, from farmers to suburban lawn-tractor jockeys, have put too many life-choking pollutants into the bay, creating wider and wider dead zones that stifle the growth of the crab population.

Nothing really new here, friends.

In 1995, the CBF said the blue crab population was "perilously close to collapse."

In 1998, experts at the Chesapeake Bay Program said watermen had "fully exploited" the blue crab population.

Ten years later, in the spring of 2008, we had the declaration of the blue crab fishery as a federal disaster.

Of course, a moratorium on the crab harvest way back when might have prevented things from reaching this point.

But for years, politicians in Maryland and Virginia have suffered from what the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society calls "homopechephobia," defined as fear of fishermen, or the fishing industry lobby.

We have a regional strain of this phobia here - the fear that the dwindling number of Chesapeake watermen will be able to unseat politicians who try to restrict their trade.

That is an irrational fear. Most Marylanders realize by now that the bay has been abused and exploited. We know that without more aggressive measures, we might have to say farewell to the life aquatic; the Chesapeake will lose not only its commercial fishery but also its stature as the pride of our region.

So politicians shouldn't be shy about taking drastic action to stem pollution, particularly from farms. They shouldn't be afraid to save crabs with a moratorium. And they shouldn't chant the "growth is good" mantra just because that's what they've always done. (They might even want to question whether Maryland can - or should - take in the thousands of new residents anticipated from the supposedly beneficial military base realignment plan.)

It's all OK because we're headed toward a future where environmentalism is not a cause one signs up for but part of a new kind of holistic citizenship that considers the consequences of almost every private and public action - from the kinds of light bulbs we use to the kinds of leaders we elect.

Call it the green movement, if you need the shorthand; it's an aesthetic that drives past self-interest toward the greater good. It is related to the movement that swept Barack Obama to victory, and its emergence has been accelerated by economic conditions and how we see the future. Our economic recovery will be tied to the greening of technology, industry, the work force and our style of life. I hope green citizenship will become the dominant cultural and political force over the next decade - for our sake, for our kids' sake, for the sake of the blue crab.

Dan Rodricks' columns appear Sundays and Tuesdays. He is host of the midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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