Bay fishermen barely stay afloat

    For those students who are from out-of-state or otherwise uninformed, there is, in fact, a community of crabfishers here in the Chesapeake Bay area.

    Unlike the fishermen of the Discovery Channel series Deadliest Catch, however, Virginian crab fishermen are being hit hard by the current financial crisis. As a result, many fisherman and fishing crews have been put out of work — yet, the College of William and Mary is part of an effort to supply hope to this beleaguered industry.

    The Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the College-sponsored Virginia Institute of Marine Science has put 66 fishermen back to work — if only for a short period of time — through the Marine Debris Removal Program. Using sonar equipment, the fishermen set to work retrieving stranded equipment and “ghost” pots littering the bay floor.

    Storms and the accidental cutting of fishing ropes by propellers have contributed to the reason for the high percentage of lost equipment. The fishermen were paid $300 per day, in addition to their operation expenses, with the total cost of the project amounting to $1 million. This year, the fishermen have recovered over 9,000 pots and over 600 pieces of other fishing equipment.

    Since the program started in December 2008, more than 18,000 lost pots have been recovered, saving the lives of animals such as turtles, fish and ducks — all of which have been trapped in derelict pots.

    The positive aspects to this program are quite obvious: it puts fishermen back to work and takes care of the environment. The marine debris is disposed of in a safe and environmentally conscious manner, ending a potentially vicious cycle.

    Furthermore, Waste Management plans to add new, convenient recycling containers for next year’s continuation of the project, and since 20 percent of all pots are lost each year, it seems as though there will be a steady demand for the retrieval of these marine debris fragments.

    It is important to remember, however, that these jobs are not full time. The unemployed fishermen will eventually again be in search of jobs.

    If this happens, the Chesapeake Bay crab industry may take another great hit. Since the early 1990s, output has drastically dwindled. Moreover, Maryland — the other leading blue crab supplier — put restrictions on the size of crabs that can be kept and sold.

    Virginia and Maryland already have come to rely on different regions for their own consumption of crabs, and if the watermen have to endure shortages much longer, the local eating establishments will have to rely more on other sources.

    History has shown that this type of outside intervention in the economy is often only capable of forestalling the inevitable and, in this case, the inevitable may be the downfall of the Chesapeake Bay crab fishing industry.

    Anyone who has ever enjoyed blue crab will surely share in my anxiety.

    E-mail Aristotle Herbert at


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here