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Eating, preserving crabs linked

August 31, 2011 12:15 am


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"Save the Crabs, Then Eat 'Em."

While that sounds contradictory, it makes perfect sense to the Friends of the Rappahannock. Those who live along the river and the Chesapeake Bay can enjoy their favorite seafood, and take a few simple steps to help preserve the blue crab population.

The slogan is part of an ongoing advertising push to change homeowners' lawn-fertilizing habits in the bay watershed.

This is the first time FOR has used the campaign, which made its debut in 2005 in the Washington area. The initiative, funded by the Chesapeake Bay Program, links conservation and consumption.

"It is about what you like to eat, and that you'd like to save what you love," Jennifer Allen, assistant director of FOR, said in a recent interview.

"A lot of people's cultural history is connected to the bay; like myself, they like to eat steamed crabs."

As the Fredericksburg-based conservation group rolls out the main course at its annual Riverfest fundraiser next month, everyone cracking open steamed blue crabs can enjoy them guilt-free.

"It's simply a pledge not to fertilize your lawn in the spring; the best time is in the fall," said Cate Huxtable, volunteer coordinator at FOR.

"Riverfest ties it in perfectly--there won't be any crabs unless we save them for the future."

Allen said only sustainably harvested blue crabs are used at Riverfest, meaning that they are purchased only from watermen licensed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Fertilizer from suburban lawns and farms that doesn't get to plants washes into sewers, streams and rivers, and ultimately the bay.

During the summer, those nutrients feed vast algae blooms. When the tiny organisms die off, they suck oxygen from the water, suffocating marine life.

The "Save the Crabs " campaign will run again in the spring, "when people are thinking about green grass," Huxtable said, and when they should forgo fertilizing.

The message ties into state and federal efforts to limit the amount of pollution entering the bay and its tributaries.

The Environmental Protection Agency has put bay states, including Virginia, on a strict pollution diet that requires major cutbacks in nutrients.

The bay's blue crabs are on the rebound after several years of dismal harvests, which prompted fisheries management agencies in Maryland and Virginia to limit the catch. A new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the bay's crab population is healthy, but that female crabs continue to need protection.

FOR's message about crabs and fertilizer is one of several educational programs.

Its Livable Neighborhood Water Stewardship Program teaches homeowners and residents' associations practical methods to reduce pollution flowing into nearby streams.

Another program conducts workshops to build rain barrels, which can save about 1,300 gallons of water a month during the hottest part of summer. FOR's peer programs teach kids the importance of water resources, and why they should be protected.

FOR is using a state grant to buy equipment to expand its initiative to create rain gardens--gravel-filled basins to catch storm runoff water--on residential lots.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

Riverfest is Friends of the Rappahannock's major annual fundraiser. The benefit and auction this year is 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at Farley Vale Farm in King George County.

For more information, call 373-3448 or visit river

Fertilize in the fall. This provides the most benefit, and reduces runoff during the warmer months when rivers are most sensitive to algae blooms from excess nutrients. Use only the recommended amount of fertilizer. Aerate soil--an easy way to help a lawn, without chemicals. Get soil tested to determine the exact amount and type of fertilizer to put on your lawn.

--Friends of the Rappahannock

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