The Maryland Department of the Environment, in response to the recent article on beach monitoring,“To be safe, surf the Internet before swimming at the beach,” (July-August 2013), would like to provide additional information to help readers make informed choices about swimming in natural waters.

The MDE oversees beach monitoring in Maryland and works with local jurisdictions to sample beaches for “indicator bacteria.” These bacteria are in the digestive systems of warm-blooded animals, and when they are present, it is assumed that potentially harmful pathogens might also be present. The department also requires local jurisdictions to determine which water bodies are designated as beaches as well as conduct surveys prior to the beach season to identify and address potential pollution sources, especially human sources such as failing sewage systems.

Because it is not practical to continuously sample everywhere people swim, management decisions to post advisories or close a beach are informed not only by the monitoring data but also by knowledge of other environmental factors such as pollution sources. The pollution source surveys conducted prior to the beach season combined with the monitoring data provide decision makers with the necessary information to make decisions that minimize the public health risk associated with swimming. Information on conditions at monitored beaches can be found at

Additional monitoring of certain waters by private groups provides even more information for decision making.

The article also describes the serious health problems that can be caused by contact with Vibrio bacteria. Vibrio bacteria naturally occur worldwide in both salt and brackish waters. There are more than 80 species of Vibrio but not all strains cause human illness or wound infections, and infections are rare. People with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk for Vibrio infections. Vibrios are always present when water temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

For all of these reasons, when swimming in natural waters, whether it is in Maryland or anywhere else, everyone should follow basic health and safety guidelines, including: 

1. Avoid water contact if one has skin wounds. If water contact cannot be avoided, cover all wounds with waterproof bandages.

2. Wear swimming shoes for protection against cuts and scrapes.

3. Shower after swimming and wash hands before handling food.

4. Seek medical attention if a wound develops with unusual redness, swelling or drainage, and inform the doctor if there has been recent contact with brackish water or saltwater.

More details on Vibrio are available at

For additional health-related measures to take after swimming in natural waters, consult with your health care provider. When traveling, contact appropriate local agencies regarding water quality conditions and whether it is advisable to swim.

No one should forget that swimming in natural waters, like many activities we undertake every day, is not without risks. While not everyone who swims in waters with elevated levels of indicator bacteria will get sick, there is no guarantee that one might not get sick swimming in waters with lower levels of indicator bacteria. The key is to be informed — then put that information to use to enjoy swimming in Maryland or wherever your travels may take you.

D. Lee Currey, Director
Science Services Administration MD Department of the Environment


Yellow perch tags another subsidy for commercial industry

The letter regarding yellow perch marketing (“DNR perch policies show lack of knowledge as to how market works,”May 2013) gave a distorted view of how the yellow perch industry is managed. The author, Marc Castelli, left out some important facts about the history of yellow perch fishing.

1. The decision to require the tagging of each fish was driven by the admission by industry representatives that the annual catch had historically been under-reported and many more fish were being caught than were being reported. The current commercial quota was set to limit the catch to what had been historically reported. In spite of the tagging requirement, each year the industry exceeds its quota and has to pay back the excess the next year via cuts in their annual quota.

2. Castelli complained that buyers would not come back for fear that the fishery would be closed “again.” The commercial yellow perch fishery has never been completely closed. While some portions of Maryland waters are closed to commercial fishing to help protect spawning stocks, the industry is still able to catch and market about the same poundage as they were reporting before the tagging requirement.

3. Similar tags, used for striped bass, cost about 14 cents each so, if the commercial fishermen are getting them for 2 cents each, they are getting a deal and someone else is paying most of the bill.

For at least two decades, commercial fishermen in Maryland have failed to pay the full cost of managing their fisheries. Massive general fund, federal grant and recreational fee subsidies have been used to cover the annual deficit that has been documented at almost $3 million. While legislation in 2013 increased their fees, the deficit is still more than $1 million based on the services they received in 2012. If some benefits are cut, the DNR and the industry will still be counting on almost $1 million in general funds to balance the books for fiscal year 2014. Had the industry paid the full price for yellow perch tags, the bill would have been $10,000 – less than 1 percent of the subsidy they already requested.

Ken Hastings
Mechanicsville, MD


Vines – valuable or vile?

I have a question about vines on trees. Are there good vines and bad vines?

During drives in the area, I have observed trees being killed by vines on both public and private properties. Perhaps this process is part of natural selection — and is meant to weed out the weaker species — but is it good for the forest?

I would like to see the Bay Journal run an article about woodland management, including advice from experts in the field. The Bay Journal has published articles about new trees, grasses and shrubs; perhaps it is time to feature existing trees, especially mature hardwoods.

I believe that freeing trees from vines is good for the forest and wildlife that live there. If this is indeed true, the public should be made more aware, and public and private land owners could remove the vines that threaten trees.

This would lead to a more pleasant experience for those who drive along the roads of the Chesapeake watershed.

Editor’s Note: The Bulletin Board frequently runs notices for public vine removal workdays under the Volunteer Opportunities category.

Gary Holmes
Forest Hill, MD


Nuclear plants leave a dangerous legacy

I have never before been disgusted by anything I read in the Bay Journal, but I am very sad, unhappy and yes, disgusted by Tom Horton’s commentary, “Climate change the real bogeyman, not nuclear energy,” (June 2013).

I could not disagree more. He seems to dismiss the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima as minor events when, in fact, we are very much still dealing with them. I was four months pregnant in April 1986 when the meltdown at Chernobyl happened. Fortunately, my daughter is a healthy 26-year-old today, but at the time, her health and safety was a huge worry. There was an invisible cloud of toxic radiation circling the Earth, with nowhere safe to hide. Even raindrops were suspect.

We are only beginning to understand the full effects of the dumping of so much radioactive contamination into the ocean after Fukushima. Here in Oregon, we have nuclear waste storage tanks on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation with leaked radioactive liquid that is inching ever closer to the Columbia River. It seems very wrong for the Bay Journal to endorse an energy source with such a deadly and toxic byproduct as nuclear waste, which has no permanent method of disposal.

It’s a quick and dirty way of passing the buck to future generations for our profligate energy use today. Conservation is the key.

We need to review the safety and stability of active nuclear power plants and oppose loan subsidies for new reactors. There is no safe level of exposure to radiation. Extremely low doses of radiation increase the incidence of childhood cancers, low birthweight babies, premature births, infant mortality, birth defects, and even diminished intelligence. The National Academies’ Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII report confirms that any exposure to radiation increases a person’s risk of cancer.

We need to re-evaluate our commitment to this dangerous energy source. Nuclear power may not emit greenhouse gasses or contribute directly to global warming. Nevertheless, it leaves a massive, unwanted toxic legacy for future generations of humans and wildlife.

Caroline Skinner
Portland, OR