Bay Journal

September 2006 - Volume 16 - Number 6

Underwater grasses at the tipping point?

If someone had placed a bull’s-eye on a map identifying the hot spot for waterfowl a century ago, it would have been the Chesapeake Bay, where ducks and geese gathered each winter in “numbers beyond credence or computation,” according to one naturalist. What attracted them were vast beds of underwater grasses so dense, another ornithologist reported, that “a boat with difficulty could be rowed through it, it so impedes the oars.”

The hot spot within the Chesapeake was the Susquehanna Flats, a shallow track near the mouth of the Bay’s largest tributary where, according to a newspaper account from the mid-1800s, grasses grew in water “eight to nine feet in depth” in areas “which are never wholly bare.” ...

Executive Council meeting set for Sept. 22

The annual meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council, the top policy-making body for the Bay cleanup effort, is scheduled for Sept. 22 on Kent Island in Maryland.

The council includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of the District of Columbia; the administrator of the EPA; and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures.

The Executive Council will discuss policy measures to improve the health of the Bay during its meeting, which takes place 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club. ...

Tayloe Murphy receives Flanigan award

W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. is the 2006 winner of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Frances H. Flanigan Environmental Leadership Award.

Murphy was Virginia’s secretary of natural resources from 2002-2005 and chaired the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee during part of his tenure.

Murphy also served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1982 to 2000. During his time in the General Assembly, he was chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. He was also chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission during its two-year review of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. ...

ASMFC approves compromise menhaden harvest limit for Virginia

A compromise limit on Chesapeake Bay menhaden harvests proposed by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was approved for public comment by a regional fisheries panel in August, likely averting a showdown over how to manage the small, oily fish.

Kaine in July announced the state would limit menhaden catches to 109,000 metric tons, the average annual harvest from 2001 through 2005.

Last year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a regional fish management agency, had voted to cap the Bay catch at about 106,000 metric tons, the average catch from 2000 through 2004, for five years. But the state legislature, which has the primary responsibility for menhaden management, failed to enact that limit, which was opposed by the industry. ...

Park Service backs plan to create John Smith national historic water trail

A National Park Service study has endorsed the idea of designating the nearly 3,000-mile route of Capt. John Smith’s Chesapeake Bay explorations as a National Historic Trail.

The feasibility study, completed in late July, agreed that the trail met the legal requirements for joining other nationally historic routes with that designation, such as the Lewis and Clark and Pony Express trails. If Congress goes along, it would be the first water trail to be designated as a national historic trail system. ...

68 projects throughout Bay’s jurisdictions awarded Small Watershed Grants

Streamside buffers will be planted, rain gardens established and seagrass beds restored as part of the $2.5 million in Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants that were announced in August.

Altogether, 68 projects will protect or manage approximately 2,600 acres of critical fish and wildlife habitat. Grant recipients will plant more than 5 miles of forest buffers and restore an additional 21 miles of streams that drain into the Bay.

About 10,000 volunteers will participate in the projects, while 47,000 citizens will be educated through outreach materials. ...

Oyster researchers say ariakensis evaluation needs at least 2 more years

Oyster scientists say they remain more than two years away from answering key questions about the impact of introducing a nonnative oyster in the Chesapeake, and they caution that some important issues are getting little evaluation.

A survey of the more than three dozen scientists currently engaged in Crassostrea ariakensis research found that only one of 22 issues considered to be a “high” or “moderate” priority has been adequately addressed to date.

Some important studies will probably not be completed—and results analyzed—before the end of 2008, according to the survey, which was completed by the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. That would keep pace with the time frame established when STAC outlined a five-year research program at a workshop in December 2003. ...

Environmentalists seek to halt discharges into Shenandoah

Environmentalists took action Aug. 11 to stop pollution of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River that is coming from a plant that processes sewage from two poultry processing plants and two Rockingham County towns.

The Waterkeeper Alliance and two of its affiliates filed a notice of intent to sue Sheaffer International L.L.C. over its releases of phosphorous and nitrogen into the branch of the Shenandoah, a Potomac River tributary that has had massive fish kills in recent years.

“These are some of the highest magnitudes we’ve seen,” said Bill Gerlach of the Irvington, N.Y.-based alliance. ...

Migratory Canada geese population stabilizing

After nearly a decade of increases, the number of reproducing pairs of Atlantic population Canada geese counted in their Arctic breed grounds appears to have stabilized in recent years.

This year, biologists counted 160,000 pairs of the migratory birds during their annual survey in northern Quebec.

That is generally similar to the numbers seen over the past five years, and a bit less than the 162,400 counted last year. But it is still more than five times higher than the record low count of 29,000 pairs in 1995, which spurred a five-year hunting moratorium. ...

Chinese mitten crab may be latest alien invader in the Chesapeake

Biologists around the Bay are on the lookout for large, spiderlike crabs that have the potential to be the latest foreign species to invade the Chesapeake.

A Chinese mitten crab, which has shown the ability to spread rapidly after being introduced in Europe and San Francisco Bay, was reported for the first time in the Chesapeake late this spring when one turned up in a waterman’s crab pot in the Patapsco River.

Biologists learned about it after seeing photos in the Waterman’s Gazette taken by the waterman, Capt. John Delp of Pasadena, seeking to identify what he described as “an imported crab.” ...

Out of the Pots and into the Fire

Once diamondback terrapins were relentlessly harvested to provide the key ingredient for terrapin stew, and as recently as 1938, a Maryland candidate for governor called for “a terrapin in every pot.” Today, state officials say they would rather try to keep the reptiles in every coastal marsh.

Although terrapin meat rarely shows up in the market today, concern is rising that the diamondback terrapin, hunted nearly to extinction a century ago, may again be in jeopardy, leading the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to issue regulations providing added protection for the turtles. ...

For many parts of Chesapeake, it’s either eelgrass or nothing

If one species of underwater grass is irreplaceable in the Chesapeake, it is the one that is in the most trouble today: eelgrass.

Its absence would doom many areas of the Bay to barren bottom, taking a toll on such species as post-larval blue crabs, which depend on eelgrass beds near the mouth of the Bay for hiding places when they return after spending months in the coastal ocean.

“The first place they settle in are the grass beds,” said Bob Orth, a Virginia Institute of Marine Science researcher. ...

About Bay Grasses

The amount of sunlight reaching the bottom that that underwater grasses need to survive varies species by species. But generally, freshwater species need to receive 13 percent of the sunlight that reaches the water surface, while medium– and high-salinity dwellers need about 22 percent. Algae blooms and sediment in the water block sediment from reaching the leaves. Also, nutrients can spur the growth of tiny organisms, called epiphytes, directly on the leaves of plants, which also block sunlight. ...

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