Listing the Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered species was nearly inevitable; it's hard to argue that their numbers are not a fraction of historic levels, or that they have been adequately protected from bycatch under current management.
But it will be unfortunate if the listing sharply curtails sturgeon monitoring and research efforts in the Bay as most expect. Maryland and Virginia programs that allow fishermen to hold captured sturgeon until biologists can arrive to tag and release the fish have yielded a wealth of information, including data used in setting Bay water quality standards, which are the goal of ongoing cleanup efforts.
Now, holding sturgeon until biologists show up would be considered an illegal "take" unless states get special incidental take permits, which can be a time-consuming process at best.
Bay scientists who work on sturgeon expect to have research permits when the endangered listing becomes final on April 6. The drawback: Their research is largely unfunded.
The Bay region has a core group of scientists who have pushed our knowledge of sturgeon forward on shoestring budgets for years. If the listing makes their work more difficult, and results in less data about the fish, it'll be a bad side effect of the action.
There is some good news. Eric Hilton, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said a VIMS trawl survey turned up four baby sturgeon less than 6 inches long in the Pamunkey River during December and January. Because those sturgeon are too small to have traveled from another river, it's a strong sign that spawning took place in the York River system last year. Perhaps, if we're lucky, there are two - not one - Bay tributaries that still support the big fish.
This issue features two "Chesapeake Born" columns by Tom Horton. The columns are produced monthly to distribute to other publications through our Bay Journal News Service. Because the Bay Journal is published 10 times a year, we're playing catch up this month.
We hope you enjoy his tribute to Maryland Watermans Association President Larry Simns, and his praise for the often unheralded folks who monitor our streams, rivers and resources.
Mailing delivery issues
Many readers reported late deliveries of their Bay Journals last fall. Some received their copies a month or more after they were mailed. One reader told me he got the November issue after receiving the January-February edition.
The mail house we use to prepare the Bay Journal for mailing has been working to resolve the problem. By using the bar code printed below your name on the address label they have been tracking the Bay Journals as they move through the postal system.
This has allowed the mail house to identify where delays seem to occur, and it is working to make adjustments. For instance, it is now dropping off Bay Journals at more post offices to get them closer to their ultimate destination, and to avoid areas where they've identified bottlenecks. As a result, tracking indicates that delivery of the January-February issue was greatly improved for most readers.
We regret the late deliveries, and will continue efforts to ensure copies reach readers in a timely manner.
Our article in the January-February issue about draft Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans incorrectly characterized new Virginia regulations for septic systems. The new regulations require a 50 percent nitrogen reduction from all new small "alternative" on-site systems - not all new onsite systems as the article indicated. The distinction is significant as the Virginia Department of Health, which oversees the new program, estimates that only about 10 percent of all new systems installed in the Chesapeake watershed are alternative systems. The other 90 percent are conventional systems are are not affected by the new regulation and the nutrient requirement.