One year ago, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and state environmental officials stood at a podium in Riva behind a bushel of steamed blue crabs, and announced the Chesapeake Bay's crab population was at its highest in almost 20 years.
O'Malley said it was the fourth consecutive year of progress for the blue crab, after what appeared to be a bleak future "just a few short years ago."
But on Friday, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported a record drop in population for 2013. The decrease of approximately 465 million total crabs—including an 81 percent plummet in juvenile crabs—marks the biggest single-year drop since the Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey started in 1990.
The second largest drop in population was when the count went from 828 million crabs in 1991 to 367 million in 1992, according to DNR numbers.
So the scene was quite different from a year ago. Instead of politicians touting state efforts to boost the population, it was DNR Secretary John Griffin tasked with announcing the drop.
And the bushel of crabs? That was gone, too.
A DNR press release says the decrease was largely due to poor reproduction and high mortality last year. One of the bright sides of the survey was a 52 percent increase in spawning-age female crabs since last winter.
Griffin conceded the results were not ideal—he explained how DNR designed conservation methods around such fluctuations.
"Our strong management framework includes a buffer that allows the population to fluctuate within a safe threshold," Griffin said. This "buffer" is intended to keep the populations reproducing enough for a sustainable seafood industry.
But Griffin, who headed DNR from 1995 to 1999, and was reappointed by O'Malley in 2007, will likely never have to lead such a press conference again.
The day before DNR released the survey numbers, O'Malley announced Griffin would be taking over as the governor's chief of staff. Griffin is replacing Matt Gallagher, who left the governor's staff to head a philanthropic foundation in Baltimore.
O'Malley credited Griffin with pushing an agenda to increase the state's natural resources—including the iconic blue crab.
"For the past six years he has been at the heart and soul of Maryland’s environmental agenda, lending his wisdom and expertise to the progress we have made in protecting and restoring our land, water, fish and crabs," O'Malley said in an April 18 press release.
On April 10, the governor also applauded DNR after the state's oyster population showed increases for the second year in a row.
Raquel Guillory, an O'Malley spokeswoman, told Patch that Griffin's appointment to chief of staff was not related to the crab survey numbers, and that the governor was fully aware of the survey's results prior to offering Griffin the appointment.
"[Griffin] has no control over those numbers," Guillory told Patch. "The agency is doing a very good job both working to help improve the health of the bay and boost those numbers."
O'Malley, who is on an economic mission in Jordan and Israel this week, was not available for comment on how the crab survey numbers reflect on his new chief of staff.
Deputy Secretary Joseph Gill will take over for Griffin as head of DNR, after 24 years of experience within the agency.