Chesapeake blue crabs are the signature seafood of the mid-Atlantic. But hit Baltimore or the crab-gut-stained, paper-tableclothed shacks along the bay and you will find—well, as the Associated Press reports, a “dwindling number of restaurants that still serve Chesapeake blue crab instead of relying on cheaper, more reliable meat from the Gulf of Mexico or Asia.”
That’s because the Chesapeake blue crab population is in bad shape. Really bad. Last year’s catch in Maryland was the second-worst since 1945, and scientists say this year’s may be the worst. It says something about how worried regulators are that the commercial crab season opened on April 1 and authorities still haven’t released this year’s catch limits. They’ll be lower—the only question is by how much.
This is a classic fisheries management problem, of course: The regulators say that if everyone suffers for a few years—if everyone cuts back—the population will rebound. The fishermen respond, as someone does here, that they “always give and give and give and never gotten nothin’ back.” The crabbers then blame the environment—the destruction of habitat from filtered pollutant runoff, say—instead of overfishing. So the regulators say, well, that’s fine, but what we can control now is the number of fish caught.
It’s like Mad Libs for coastal fisheries: Just change the species.