Bay Journal

March 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 1
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Oyster wars: Volunteers, watermen, vie over sanctuaries

The shoreline by St. Mary’s College in Southern Maryland is lined with riprap, not unlike developed waterfront elsewhere around the Chesapeake Bay. But closer inspection reveals something striking: A cornucopia of oysters, large and small, fill the crevices between the rocks.

Not far offshore, many more oysters can be seen just below the surface of the clear water, festooning reefs made out of concrete and construction rubble.

“The oysters are thick as can be,” enthused Bob Lewis, executive director of the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association.

The upper St. Mary’s River is an oyster sanctuary. Off limits to harvest pressure, this 1,300-acre area is brimming with bivalves.

Fish, seafood distributors tipping the scales in favor of safety

J. J. McDonnell & Co., Inc. processes thousands of pounds of fish a day: lobster trucked to its Howard County headquarters from Maine, crabs plucked from Tangier Sound, farmed oysters from Southern Maryland and tuna flown in from Africa. They’re different species, but their requirements are the same — constant, consistent cold. Under 50 degrees for live fish, under 40 degrees for dead ones.

With uncertainty about new regulations and increases in the reported cases of food-borne illnesses, wholesale fish distributors are taking their need for refrigeration to a whole new level — and place. Some, like McDonnell, have moved out of the wholesale city markets that used to be gathering places for early-morning fish delivery and banter. Others are going out of business, selling out to competitors, or merging to share space and expenses.

SAV Olympics: Foreign embassies seek laurels for growing grasses for Bay

Blair Blanchette was halfway through her demonstration on growing underwater grasses indoors when she stopped midsentence, assessing her audience.

“I’m getting faces from everyone that say, ‘This isn’t gonna work,’” said Blanchette, the Virginia grass-roots coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “But we’ve had 2,500 participants in this program, and they’ve all grown grasses.”

She didn’t dwell on the fact that most of those participants over the program’s 17-year history have been school-age children who are used to such science projects — not diplomats representing their countries at embassies in Washington, DC. But, an organizer from the U.S. State Department was quick to point out, there will be prizes for the embassies that grow the tallest and densest grasses come June.

Sonar revealing more river herring in Choptank than expected

Scientists have a powerful new tool to help them “see” fish in the Chesapeake Bay’s murky tributaries, and it’s yielding some surprisingly good news about two of the estuary’s most troubled species.

“Imaging sonar” uses sound to help them view, and count, passing fish in dark or cloudy water. For the past few years, scientists with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have been deploying one of these underwater sound cameras in some of the Bay’s rivers to monitor spawning runs of alewife and blueback herring, collectively known as river herring.

Hampton Roads treating wastewater till it’s good enough to return to aquifer

Little more than a day before, the water pouring from a tap outside the York River Treatment Plant had been wastewater: a mix of sewage flushed down toilets, soapy water drained from bathtubs, food wastes washed down the sink and industrial waste piped into sewer lines.

Now, the water coming out the silver spigot was crystal clear, filling a clean glass that said “SWIFT” on its side.

And it tasted like, well, water.

Despite its checkered past, the water was good enough to drink —maybe too good, according to officials from the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, which operates the York River plant and a dozen others in southeastern Virginia. Instead of just treating wastewater and discharging it into the river as they’ve done for decades, district officials say they’ve now produced a valuable resource that can solve multiple problems facing the region.

Black rail population sinking fast as rising sea level drowns its habitat

Getting to know the Eastern black rail has always been tough.

The sparrow-size bird lives deep in marshes that are hard to access, and it is most active in the wee hours of the morning. Even then, it tends to scamper through dense vegetation, rather than fly — some call it a “feathered mouse.”
“We know almost nothing about this species,” said ornithologist Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology in Virginia. “It’s very tiny and incredibly secretive. Even most bird watchers have never seen this species before.”

Now, even hearing their call is unlikely. Its habitat, a delicately balanced zone deep within coastal marshes, is being flooded by the rising waters. And the Eastern black rail is disappearing fast — potentially becoming the first victim of sea level rise around the Chesapeake Bay and other areas of the East Coast.

Experience Alexandria’s maritime past

The developers of a luxurious waterfront hotel in Alexandria, VA, put construction on hold for several months last year after their shovels struck the wooden hull of a ship. The city’s team of archaeologists sprang into action, unearthing part of a 50-foot vessel scuttled into place around 200 years ago that contained a special kind of treasure: a piece of Alexandria’s maritime past.

Project Clean Stream engages businesses, makes a splash locally

Project Clean Stream began in Baltimore County in 2002 and has grown from a small community event to a watershedwide effort in all six Bay states and the District of Columbia. Deeply rooted in the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s mission, Project Clean Stream is a signature Alliance program. The Alliance coordinates local site cleanups, trains site captains and provides cleanup supplies such as trash bags and gloves. It also arranges trash removal after the cleanup is finished.

VA lawmakers short of cash, pass ‘building blocks’ for Bay

Despite a steep budget shortfall, Virginia lawmakers managed to pass several pieces of legislation advocates say will benefit the Chesapeake Bay in a session that wrapped up this past weekend.

The General Assembly faced a revenue gap of nearly $800 million over the next two years when it convened early this year, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s budget proposal included a fraction of the funding some Bay-related programs have seen in the past.

Though the governor’s budget set aside $10 million to defray the cost of pollution-preventing best management practices on farms — down from the previous appropriation of more than $60 million — the final budget squeezed out a bit more for the agricultural cost-share program at $17 million. That won’t cover the current backlog of on-farm projects that are awaiting funding, but it does come closer, advocates say.

Irish firm tackles burning issue of Maryland’s poultry waste

The first thing a visitor notices when stepping inside two of Brad Murphy's chicken houses is the smell. Usually, the acrid reek of ammonia assaults the senses upon stepping into a 40,000-bird house. But in these two, there’s barely a whiff.

That’s because Murphy’s farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, called Double Trouble, is part of the state’s big experiment in converting animal manure to energy. An Irish firm, BHSL, has put in a $3 million system that burns the poultry waste to heat the houses.

The system curtails the ammonia fumes that not only make poultry houses stink, but compromise the birds’ health. It also can give farmers a financial boost — they can avoid paying for propane to heat the houses, and even make a little income from selling excess energy generated by the system that’s fed into the electric grid.

Perdue turns to composting to get more poultry waste off farm fields

Perdue Farms, one of the nation’s leading poultry producers, is adding a new product to its increasingly varied lineup: compost.

Through its AgriBusiness offshoot, the family-owned corporation based in Salisbury, MD, has begun converting organic wastes from its chicken processing plants and hatchery into fertilizer at a $12 million plant recently finished in neighboring Delaware.

Company officials say the new 15-acre facility, called AgriSoil, is expected before long to begin handling poultry litter – a mix of manure and wood shavings. That could offer Perdue’s many contract growers on the Delmarva Peninsula a new option for dealing with tightening regulatory restrictions on the traditional practice of spreading the manure from chicken houses on crop fields. 

Sneads Farm Asparagus Festival May 27-29 in Fredericksburg, VA
Ernst Conservation Seeds: Restoring the Native Balance
Tour dem Parks, hon.

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