The common link for fresh– and saltwater recreational anglers, aside from the fact that both use rod and reel, is that consistent success is nearly impossible without clean water.
One of the most critical, yet easily identified, obstacles preventing cleaner water—and improved fishing—in the Bay and its tributaries is a lack of funding to help farmers implement conservation practices that reduce pollution.
The majority of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is privately owned, and most of it is in agriculture production. To ensure a future of vigorous fish stocks teeming in healthy streams and rivers, we must preserve farmland, keep farming profitable and manage agricultural lands in an environmentally sound manner.
Well-managed farms are one of the Bay region’s most environmentally compatible land uses. When managed poorly, though, agricultural lands are a major source of pollution. And once lost to development, farms are a distant memory, no longer filtering polluted runoff but funneling stormwater and other pollutants into local streams and rivers and degrading fish habitat.
From freshwater favorites brook trout and smallmouth bass to estuarine inhabitants striped bass and croaker, the Chesapeake region is legendary for its fishing opportunities. Yet, without rural areas and proper conservation practices, we damage the waters that are home to these and other important fish species.
True, implementing sound farm conservation practices costs money. But it’s worth every penny. In fact, state and federal funding programs and policies determine in large part how farmers manage their land.
Governmental decisions on such things as subsidies, incentives, and available financial assistance shape decisions by farmers on what to grow, whether to establish a streamside buffer, and what types of tillage practices to use.
The fallout from these decisions reaches far beyond the farms themselves, and can elevate harmful levels of pollutants such as sediment, nitrogen, phosphorous, and pesticide in the waters we fish.
Farmers want to do the right thing. Four out of five farmers who wish to participate in state and federal stewardship and conservation programs cannot because there is not enough funding to meet the demand.
Anyone who has a stake in healthy streams and downriver waters—from the Little Juniata and the Susquehanna rivers to the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, or the Chesapeake Bay itself—should let their local, state and federal elected officials know that we need more money for farmers and farming.
In the coming months, we will have an unprecedented opportunity to advocate for and with farmers of the mid-Atlantic to receive a fairer share of federal Farm Bill funds. Currently, Chesapeake farmers obtain an average of four cents of federal agricultural funding for every dollar of agricultural production. The national average is six cents per dollar and in some states, such as North Dakota, farmers receive more than three times as much.
Similarly, we should urge our federal officials to broaden the availability of funding for farmers who are already using pollution reduction practices. And, we should also advocate for increased funding for installing and maintaining streamside buffers that keep cows out of streams and provide shade streams to enhance fish habitat.
No one should be a stronger advocate for increased funding than the members of the Executive Council. At their upcoming annual meeting in November, the Council should take bold and ambitious action to seek and obtain more federal money for farm conservation while the Bay states’ governors should simultaneously launch aggressive initiatives for increased levels of state funding.
The majority of recreational anglers are renowned for their conservation ethic, as are most farmers. Working together, we can preserve our rural heritage and restore and protect our streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
Call your local state or federal legislator and tell them the time has come to put new and more money into state and federal farming conservation and clean streams programs.