Bush Cuts Funding for Blue Crab Study

President Bush pulled nearly $4 million from a project to study blue crabs in Maryland. Program director Yonathan Zohar makes a bid for your attention.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Imagine Maryland crabless. A research project in Baltimore designed to increase the blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay. Well, their budget was slashed from nearly $4 million in 2007 to zero - zero dollars in 2008 - in the recently signed omnibus spending bill. That's got to hurt if you're in the crab business. But if not, well, your life goes on. But maybe it shouldn't. Maybe you should stop, pause, reflect. Maybe you should care. This leaves us nicely to another edition of THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT's Make Me Care.

Yonathan Zohar is director and crab project leader for the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the Inner Harbor. He joins us now.

Hi.

Mr. YONATHAN ZOHAR (Director and Crab Project Leader, Center of Marine Biotechnology, Inner Harbor): Hello.

STEWART: Hi. So, just before we get you to play our Make Me Care game, what does your organization do for the crab population?

Mr. ZOHAR: Well, we're trying to reverse the situation that you were describing. You know, the Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay are all about the blue crab. You know, you come to Baltimore to have a crab cake and a soft shell crab.

And the blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay have been on an alarming, you know, decline the last 10, 15 years and we are trying to use tools of modern biology and biotechnology to reverse the situation before it is too late.

STEWART: All right. So you know the rules, but I'm going to reiterate them for our listeners who may have never been through this with us before. We're going to give you 60 seconds. We're putting it on our Make Me Care clock. And when you hear the ticking and the bell, that's it. Game over. You're out of time. So in the next 60 seconds, Yonathan Zohar, the Maryland blue crab population and the funding of studies for it, Make Me Care. Go.

Mr. ZOHAR: Well, I think everybody should care because the Chesapeake Bay is North America's largest estuary and has been traditionally one of its major fishing grounds. And the last, you know, 30, 40, 50 years, those fisheries -species, the landings(ph) and the harvests and the abundance have been seriously declined. The oysters that everybody loves, that supported the huge industry, you know, years back is now, are now all gone.

The blue crab, again, which is the icon, the legacy, the symbol of the Chesapeake Bay and of the Mid-Atlantic area and of Maryland have been on the decline now. It's very alarming. We know to - we want to reverse the situation. We have - we want to develop global approaches. It's a partnership. It's many brains. It's a lot of brainpower. Many scientists, state people, industry people, I mean, are all…

(Soundbite of bell)

STEWART: Oh. Well, they're all what?

Mr. ZOHAR: They're all, you know, together here trying to make a difference and bring the - and preserve the blue crab and the catcher - its catcher, the economy, and preserve this industry.

STEWART: All right. Nicely done. You did well in our time limit there. Do you have any other funding options on the horizon now that your budget has been slashed so dramatically?

Mr. ZOHAR: Well, there are. But I mean, they are not as significant. The thing here that we needed to make a difference, we need to act quickly. You know, the oysters are gone. We didn't want the blue crab to go. So the only way is to get like the significant federal money that allows the (unintelligible) crash program, you know, and make a quick difference, you know, a quick fix and find quick solution.

And this is only possible through this large, federal social fund. Again, we have others also. There are competitive federal state moneys and so on, but there will never be that, you know, amount of funding. And it will not enable us to continue this, you know, very unique consortium that, you know, we built. And we - you know, we did accomplished a lot.

STEWART: And if you get your funding, what would be the first part of your next project?

Mr. ZOHAR: Well, the project has some major goals on which, you know, we really delivered above and beyond expectation. You know, first of all, we wanted to study the basic - understand better the basic biology of the blue crab because it's really surprising how little it's known in terms of its cultural, economical and ecological importance to the Chesapeake. And that, we accomplished.

So we started out now. Policy makers have better information to manage the fishery. Then, against all odds, we wanted to develop hatchery and nursery technologies to mass produce baby crabs to release into the bay. We have accomplished that above and beyond. We can do it, no problem, despite skepticism.

And third, and most importantly, we wanted to check the feasibility of using hatchery-produced baby crabs, juveniles, to release to the wild in order to replenish the blue crab stocks and abundance. And the last five, six years of our research with this federal money, we were able to show that this concept is feasible.

So now, we are ready to scale up, we're ready to deliver on the investment and go to the next step and develop large scale, millions of baby crabs would use in order to reverse this declining of the blue crab situation. And this is what we need to do and it will take us a couple of more years.

STEWART: Yonathan Zohar is the director and crab project leader for the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the Inner Harbor. Hey, thanks for playing Make Me Care.

Mr. ZOHAR: You're very welcome. Thank you.

STEWART: Now, if you're wondering how this program lost all of its funding, well, the Baltimore Sun, which reported on this story, claims Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski had secured the earmarks to the crab project for the last six years, but it wasn't clear that she did so this year.

We contacted the Senator's office for a statement. And they pointed the finger at the Bush administration's domestic spending cut, saying, quote, "earmarks are not forever, which is why Senator Mikulski has aggressively encouraged Maryland agencies, organizations and local county leadership to look at the competitive grant programs she has fought to fund in Congress.

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