Geographic Indications and International Trade (GIANT)

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I. Identification

1. The Issue

1. The word "Chesapeake" comes from a Native American word which means "great shell fish bay." For many residents of the Chesapeake Bay, the beginning of summer is marked by the traditional crab feast. As human populations have increased along the Bay, so has the demand for crabs. An estimated 75% of the Bay's adult stock is removed every year, and commercially, it is the most important fishery of the Bay. Unfortunately, due to overharvesting as well as environmental damage sustained by the Chesapeake Bay, adult populations of the blue crab are decreasing. The majority of the environmental damage is blamed on the regions's large poultry industry and the run-off of nitrogen and phosphorous-rich chicken manure into the Bay. (See our case study) This has led to debate over fishing quotas, stricter farming rules, and the possibility of increased taxes to help clean-up the Bay. Another side affect is an increase in prices charged for crabs as demand increases and availability decreases.

2. Description

The Chesapeake Bay is North America's largest estuary, which is an area where fresh water and salt water mix, and has historically been the center of United States hard shell blue crab fisheries as well as the largest national supplier of soft shell crabs. Maryland soft shells are eaten in England, Japan, Iowa and Georgia. Chesepeake Bay watermen harvest approximately 100 million pounds of blue crabs annually. As the once-bountiful oyster, striped bass and rokfish stocks have collapsed due to overfishing, disease, and declines in water quality, the seafood industry has become even more dependant upon crab harvests. For watermen, blue crabs have become their last hope for making a living off the Bay and the industry is becoming increasingly less viable as they compete for this limited resource. Production of soft shell crabs in the Gulf of Mexico has now exceeded that of the Chesapeake Bay. There are five similar species of crabs in Florida, besides the blue, and many restaurants along the Chesapeake Bay sell crabs shipped from Florida to meet consumer demand. Monitoring of blue crab populations in 1995 reported a 34% decline in adult crab populations compared with the five previous years. Reports such as these helped fuel temporary emergency restrictions on crabbing in 1995. In 1996 the crabbing season was shortened from April 1 - November 30 instead of the end of December, and 1996 reports showed an increase in abundance, but is is difficult to tell if this is attributable to successful crabbing restrictions or other factors.

ZOEA (Crab Larva)

The blue crab, Callinectes Sapidus, lives on a variety of plant and animal material, both living and dead, which consists mainly of small fish and worms and whatever else it can scavenge from along the shore and sea bottom. It spends most of its life in brackish and low salinity water, however, eggs only hatch successfully in saltier waters. Crab larva, called zoea, are very sensitive to temperature and salinity changes in the water. In addition to being fragile, crabs are prone to disease, but are also cannibalistic and cannot be kept crowded together, which make commercial farming of them difficult.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed, which encompasses Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Vrginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, is home to fifteen million people and is expected to increase by 26 million by 2020. As human population grows along the Bay, forests and wetlands are replaced by farms, factories, and towns. When forests and wetlands surround a body of water, relatively small amounts of nutrients in the form of nitrogen and phosphorus run off the land into the water, and are instead contained or absorbed by the natural vegetation. As the use of the land has changed, the amount of nutrients entering the Bay's waters has increased tremendously. The Bay is polluted by development, run-off, and air pollutants. The biggest problem for the Bay, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is that 318 million pounds of nitrogen and 19 million pounds of phosphorous make their way into the Bay annually. Factory-scale poultry operations and intensive agricultural practices are the leading contributors of pollution to the Bay. Agriculture contributes 39% of nitrogen and 49% of phosphorous found in the Bay. One-third of all nutrients come from waste produced in animal feeding operations. Maryland chicken production alone is blamed for 54% of nitrogen and 64% of phosphorous which reache the Bay. When these nutrients run off into the water, algae growth is fueled which leads to large algae "blooms" which block out light needed by other plant life under the water. When this algae dies and decomposes, oxygen is consumed which threatens other species in the water.

Environmentalists in Maryland are currently seeking a chicken tax of 1 cent per pound of chicken waste produced to help pay for the manure to be trucked off or disposed of. The waste is currently being spread on Maryland farm fields in Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico, which contain approximately 2,734 chicken houses. It then washes off into Bay tributaries. Phosporous from chicken manure apparently activated the Pfisteria piscicida which killed thousands of fish and sickened people in 1997. This led to a big drop in seafood sales, which cost Maryland an estimated $43 million in sales, but Maryland farmers claim the tax will merely hurt the people of Maryland as farmers quit and move their operations to Delaware and Virginia where restrictions would be less. Reduction goals have been set for phosphorous and nitrogen production, but implementation if difficult and expensive. In addition to the problems caused by the area's large poultry industry, sewage treatment plants and septic systems need to be upgraded, lawn fertilization needs to be reduced and people need to drive less to reduce nitrogen found in the air.

According to scientists, the warm waters and heavy rainfall associated with the 1997-1998 El Nino may result in increased pollution of the Bay and new pfiesteria blooms as the weather warms up this summer. Last summer's drought allowed nutrients to collect near the bottom of rivers instead of being washed away into the Bay. Now that the heavy rains of this winter have washed more nutrients than usual off farms and into the same rivers, nutrient levels will be higher than usual, thereby creating favorable conditions for pfiesteria outbreaks.

3. Related Cases


CAJUN case


4. Draft Author: Meg Weems April 16, 1998

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: Disagreement and Incomplete

While the State of Maryland and the Environmental Protection Agency have recognized the environmental problems and the threat to the blue crab as an industry as well as an important ecological species, Virginia continues to lag behind in all areas concerning the Chesapeake Bay. While Maryland have Virginia have implemented fishing restrictions which limit the number of fishing licenses granted, the number of crab pots that can be used, and the amount of harvest, Virginia's State Legislature, has been loathe to place any restrictions of farmers and business owners that contribute to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. There is disagreement over whether the fishing industry (i.e. overharvesting), the poultry and pork industries (i.e. pollution), or natural causes are to blame for the decreasing numbers of blue crabs. One problem scientists face in estimating populations and their fluctuations is that there is not an accurate way to measure life spans of the blue crab. Three to four years is the generally-accepted life-span, but some seem to live for five to eight years. This makes natural fluctuations in crab populations difficult to gauge.

6. Forum and Scope: US and Unilateral

7. Decision Breadth: 1

The species depletion would affect all of the United States as blue crabs are shipped everywhere and crab production in the Gulf of Mexico would not be adequate to meet the demand. Also, jobs would be lost in the Chesapeake Bay region as watermen become unemployed and restaurateurs would not be able to afford to buy crabs and would go out of business.

8. Legal Standing:

Law (some crabbing restrictions and environmental regulations) Non-government Agreement (the Chesapeake Bay Foundation does a lot of grass roots work as well as lobbying of State and Federal goverments)

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: North America [NAMER]

b. Geographic Site: Eastern North America [ENAMER]

c. Geographic Impact: USA

10. Sub-National Factors: Yes

Temporary emergency restrictions were put in place to protect the blue crab from over fishing at the state level. These laws shortened the fishing season and the number of fishing licenses granted. The state and federal governments compete in their research regarding the causes of the species decline. For the states involved (primarily Maryland and Virginia), the primary interest is to save jobs in the region (for fishermen as well as farmers and business owners), while the federal government is primarily interested in protecting the environment. Unfortunately, business owners are already threatening to relocate to different states if regulations prove too costly to their operations.

11. Type of Habitat: Estuaries

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure: Regulatory Standard

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts: Direct

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: Yes Blue Crab

b. Indirectly Related to Product: Yes Poultry

c. Not Related to Product: No

d. Related to Process: Yes Species Loss Sea

15. Trade Product Identification: Shellfish

16. Economic Data

The threat from abroad:

There are hundreds of crab species, but only a few are commercially important. These species include: the king crab, tanner (snow) crab, dungeness crab and the Chesapeake's speciality: the blue crab. The region in one of the main blue crab producers in the world. In 1992, 52 million pounds were harvested from the Chesapeake, with a value of almost $24 million. This represents 27% of the total U.S. landings and value, however, the landing was down significantly from the 43% reported in 1991 (Sea Grant institutions of MD and VA). The prospect for increased harvests is not good. Although natural fluctuations are normal, the Chesapeake Bay harvests are not keeping up with the dramatic increasing trend of the Mid-Atlantic, the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Chesapeake Bay producers are facing increased competition not only from these other U.S. producers, but from abroad as well. The competition is not only for blue crab products, but for products that are close substitutes. International trade in crab and crab products is increasing in value. In 1993, exports of fresh and frozen crabs were valued at more than $870 annually (Sea Grant institutions of MD and VA). The Asian warmwater marine crab industry is a potential threat to the U.S. blue crab industry, as resources are increasingly exploited. The target species on the Southern coast of China is the Portunus Sanquinolentus, also referred to as the sand crab or the blue swimming crab. While a large consumer market exists for the Chinese in Hong Kong, Singapore, Tapei and Macau, a solid market remains in the U.S. and Europe. This market is primarily for frozen and canned meats, but growth is dependant upon the quality, service and price of the Asian crab products. If harvests and prices in the U.S. continue to fluctuate, the imported products will be more appealing, but Chinese quality standards will have to meet U.S. standards. Stability of the U.S. market will be increasingly tested by foreign exports, especially from Asia. China should be watched most closely, because of its large resource availability, cost efficient labor and fishing expertise. The Chesapeake Bay producers must continue to distinguish their product as superior in taste, and quality to all competitors, but also must protect the health of the crab resource in order to maintain its place in the market.

Table 1.

Yearly Crab Landings (1,000 mt)

source: Sea Grant institutions of Maryland and Virginia

17. Impact of Trade Restriction: High

18. Industry Sector: Food

Crab meat is consumed by itself, but also enjoyed in a variety of other ways such as crab soups and crab cakes.

19. Exporter: USA, China, Japan

Table 2.

Major Exporters of Crab, 1991

Country1,000 mt$ mil.
Korea Rep.4.329.4
Hong Kong4.616.0
Korea D.P. rp7.414.0
source: Sea Grant institutions of Maryland and Virginia

World crab production (all species) is concentrated in the following countries: China, the United States, and Japan. China's crab catches account for almost half of the world's production, with the U.S. and Japan accounting for a quarter. The U.S. is the world's second largest harvester and the largest exporter of blue crabs, snow crabs and king crabs (Table 2). The U.S. is also the second largest importer (Table 3).

Importer: United States, Japan, France, Spain and Canada

Table 3.

Major Importers of Crab, 1991

Country1,000 mt$ mil.
Hong Kong8.631.4
source: Sea Grant institutions of Maryland and Virginia

Japan is the largest importer of crab, with the United States accounting for half the rest of the world crab imports, and France, Spain and Canada make up the rest.

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type:

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species

Name: Callinectes Sapidus

Type: Decapod crustacean

Diversity: Many similar species

IUCN Status Vulnerable The blue crab, Callinectes Sapidus, lives on a variety of plant and animal material, both living and dead. It spends most of its life in brackish and low salinity water, however, eggs only hatch successfully in saltier waters. In addition, crabs are cannibalistic and can not be kept in close quarters. This makes raising the blue crab in crab farms virtually impossible due to the overwhelming cost of maintaining vast expanses of water with varying salinity levels.

22. Resource Impact and Effect:

High and Medium

23. Urgency:

Under Debate by Environmentalists and Government Officials

Lifetime: Medium and 3-8 Years (under debate)

24. Substitutes:

Surimi and other types of crab and crab products.

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture:


The consumption of blue crabs is a summer tradition and watermen have been catching them for generations. Blue crabs play a large role in the Chesapeake Bay region's tourist trade and there are blue crab festivals throughout the summer.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues:


27. Rights:


28. Relevant Literature

Draft Bibliography

Peter S. Goodman, "Md., Va. Brace for Pfiesteria Outbreaks."  The 
     Washington Post, April 5, 1998.

George Harrison, Sports Afield. April 1997

Environment,  "Baywatch" 3/96.

Bay Journal, Jul/Aug 1996.  Published by the Alliance for the 
     Chesapeake Bay Inc.

BioScience.  June 1996

Charles Petrocci and Douglas Lipton, "The Warmwater Crab Fishery 
     in Asia."  Provided by: Maryland Sea Grant Extension Program and 
     Virginia Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.

Kathryn Reshetiloff, "Bay Naturalist"

Tim D. Smith Scaling Fisheries: the Science of Measuring the Effects 
     of Fishing, 1855-1955.  Cambridge University Press:Cambridge, 
     UK 1994. 

The World Book Encyclopedia: Ci-Cz.  World Book, Inc., 1989.  


 The Chesapeake Bay Watershed 
Sea Stats Number 4 - Blue Crab
Nutrient Pollution in the Chesepeake Bay