An overwhelming majority of Marylanders are worried about pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, a new poll finds, and most are concerned enough about the bay's slumping crabs to back a moratorium on crabbing.
The survey by Goucher College found 84 percent of those contacted last week said they were very or somewhat concerned about bay pollution. Just 14 percent said it worried them little or not at all.
The 708 Marylanders interviewed by telephone were only a little more upbeat about the overall health of the state's environment - 62 percent rated it fair to poor, while 36 percent consider it good to excellent.
"It's clear that Marylanders care deeply about their bay, and a majority are even willing to give up a year of crabbing if it could help stop the decline of Maryland's signature dish," said Mileah Kromer, assistant political science professor and director of the college's Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center.
Sixty-three percent of those polled said they would support a one-year ban on harvesting crabs in the bay in response to a steep two-year slide in the crustaceans' population.
State natural resources offiicials say a moratorium really wouldn't help, because crabs' reproduction and survival is largely controlled by variable weather. And even a one-year ban, they warn, would severely pinch the livelihoods of watermen, seafood dealers and crab house workers.
Instead, state officials have opted to tighten catch limits, hoping to improve chances of a bumper crop of new crabs by leaving more females in the bay to lay their eggs. But the poll shows most residents are concerned enough to support aggressive conservation measures.
A majority - 53 percent - said they believe climate change is a major threat to the well-being of Maryland residents, and nearly 59 percent said it's caused mostly by human activity. Conversely, nearly 44 percent view climate change as little or no threat, and 35 percent said it was either caused by natural patterns or didn't exist at all.
Most Marylanders polled said they'd heard little or nothing about "fracking," a controversial drilling technique responsible for a boom in natural gas production in the United States. There are potentially significant amounts of gas underlying Garrett and Allegany counties, but Maryland has imposed a de facto moratorium while it studies how to prevent drinking-water contamination, air pollution and other potential harms from widespread drilling.
Of those polled who'd heard at least something about fracking, 58 percent agreed that fracking poses an environmental threat in Maryland. The same percentage thinks the state should discourage fracking, while 52 percent said they support banning it outright.
An advisory commission that's been reviewing the potential economic benefits and health and environmental problems of fracking is expected to make its final report by year's end.
Kromer said she hoped the poll would prompt candidates in this fall's election to address Marylanders' environmental concerns, though other polls show the economy and jobs uppermost in voters' minds.
"Obviously they’re going to play second fiddle to your typical bread-and- butter issues," she said of environmental concerns. "But I think they’re not divorced from each other.
"Environmental issues are often economic issues," Kromer added, noting that people's livelihoods are tied up in the future of fracking, crabbing and the Chesapeake Bay. "They go hand in hand," she concluded.