The 2001 Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies took a number of actions affecting the Bay, including actions to strengthen blue crab regulations. Meanwhile, Maryland agreed to end the open-water disposal of dredged materials and Virginia took additional action to protect submerged aquatic vegetation.
Here is a a summary of Chesapeake-related actions, adapted from a report from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a bipartisan panel that represents the legislatures of both states. Pennsylvania action is not included as its General Assembly meets all year, and has not yet taken any final actions. For a copy of the full report, contact the Commission at 410-263-3420, or visit its web site, www.chesbay.state.va.us
Both Maryland and Virginia responded to the recommendations of the Commission’s Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee in April. Faced with scientific consensus regarding trends in the blue crab population, the BBCAC recommended a doubling of the adult spawning stock in the Bay, which translates to an approximate 15 percent reduction in fishing effort over the next three years.
Members of the Commission’s Maryland Delegation introduced recreational crabbing legislation as a complement to new commercial regulations proposed by the Department of Natural Resources. The final bill resulted in the establishment of new catch and gear restrictions on the recreational fishery. Persons catching up to two dozen hard crabs with certain gear do not require a license. With the purchase of a $5 individual license or a $15 boat license, recreational crabbers may take up to one bushel of hard crabs and two dozen soft crabs or peelers per person, with certain gear. The per boat limit is one bushel of hard crabs, or a maximum of two bushels with two or more licensed crabbers on board.
The restrictions are aimed at reducing the recreational catch to help meet the 15 percent reduction goal, while simultaneously providing more data about the size and scope of the recreational crab fishery.
Commission member Del. Michael H. Weir sponsored legislation authorizing the Department of Natural Resources to require each commercial crab licensee to declare a Sunday or a Monday as a day off for the license year. The DNR has proposed emergency regulations establishing the commercial crabbing day off provisions in the bill.
In Virginia, the General Assembly expanded the Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s authority by granting it the ability to limit the catch of recreational crabbers. Currently, unlicensed individuals may take as much as one bushel of hard crabs and two dozen peeler crabs per day for personal use without a license. Beginning July 1, 2001, the VMRC may limit, by regulation, the catch of unlicensed crabbers. The bill was sponsored by the BBCAC Co-Chair Del. Robert S. Bloxom.
In Virginia, a new program, if funded, will provide grants of up to $300 for individuals who grow oysters for transfer to state oyster sanctuaries. The bill creates the Oyster Growing Activities Fund from which the grants will be made. The VMRC will administer the program.
The Maryland General Assembly addressed oyster aquaculture this year by requiring the DNR to adopt regulations addressing the methods used when collecting oyster spat in the waters of the state.
Modeled after a Maryland bill passed in 2000, the Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation to improve its knowledge of ship ballast water exchange activities. While Maryland’s approach includes reporting requirements for domestic traffic, Virginia’s is limited to ships originating from foreign ports. Reporting procedures, which apply to all foreign-flagged vessels whose first port of call in the United States is in Virginia, now require the ship operator to report to the National Ballast Water Information Clearinghouse and to the state on all ballast exchange activity. Those found in noncompliance can be found guilty of a misdemeanor.
The consumption of submerged aquatic vegetation by a burgeoning non-native mute swan population prompted the Maryland General Assembly to approve a measure requiring the Department of Natural Resources to establish a program to control the population of swans, including the managed harvest of adult mute swans.
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
As a result of an ongoing study of issues related to the restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Virginia General Assembly adopted a resolution, proposed by Del. Thelma Drake, to develop a shallow water management plan for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. The plan will be developed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, in consultation with the Virginia Coastal Program and other agencies, over the course of two years. It will address the increasing conflicts between the natural resource goals of restoring SAV and economic uses of shallow water and riparian areas. It will also assess the impact of adjacent land uses on shallow waters.
In recent years, there have been fishermen who transit Virginia waters using hydraulic dredges illegally. Because these dredges can cause severe damage to seagrasses, the General Assembly adopted a bill that improves the authority of the VMRC to enforce its prohibition on the use of hydraulic dredges. It will be illegal to possess or use a hydraulic dredge in Virginia waters unless a permit is obtained from the VMRC. Transporting dredges in Virginia waters for the purposes of maintenance, repair or off-loading catches made in federal waters are exempt from permitting requirements.
Two measures to expand SAV protection in Maryland failed. The first would have authorized the DNR to prohibit the use of crab scrapes, which can damage grass beds, in specified areas. The second measure would have updated Maryland law by improving the identification and enforcement of SAV Protection Zones, permanently protecting vital blue crab nursery areas in Tangier Sound, and expanding current protection by prohibiting several other types of clam harvesting equipment in SAV Protection Zones.
Dredged Material Management
The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation prohibiting the open-water dumping of dredged material in the Bay, allowing for some exceptions when projects involve the beneficial use of the spoils. The legislation establishes an executive committee to provide oversight in the development of a long-range dredged material management plan for the state of Maryland. The committee is directed to review and recommend to the governor by the end of 2002, dredged material placement options and disposal sites for long-term dredged material placement, with priorities given to the beneficial use and innovative reuse of material.
Nutrients and Sediments
Leaks from aging sanitary sewer systems and overflows from combined sewage systems discharged millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Bay’s Maryland tributaries during the spring and summer of 2000. Legislation was introduced to establish a task force to study the issue, but to speed the process, Gov. Parris Glendening established a task force charged with assessing the costs and priorities for upgrading aging sewerage system infrastructure in the state and for addressing the water quality impacts of combined sewer overflows. It is to report by December 2001.
Related legislation, which successfully passed the Maryland General Assembly, will improve the reporting requirements for sewer overflow or treatment plant bypass by establishing requirements for both public and agency notification.
A number of bills that would have expanded land preservation efforts failed in the Virginia General Assembly. Once again, a bill that would dedicate a portion of the existing state recordation tax to the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation was unsuccessful, as was the Park and Recreation Bond Act of 2001, which would have, among other things, acquired land for the preservation of natural areas.
The Office of Farmland Preservation in Virginia was renamed the Agricultural Vitality Program within the Department of Agriculture. The bill enumerates the powers of the office, which include developing model policies and practices for use by local governments in the Purchase of Development Right programs. The office is also empowered to develop criteria for the certification of local PDR programs as eligible to receive grants, loans and other public funds and to develop ways of allocating funds to localities to purchase agricultural conservation easements.
In Maryland, a new land preservation program aimed at protecting a network of the state’s most valuable remaining ecological lands was approved and funded at $35 million for FY 2002. The purpose of Maryland’s “GreenPrint” program is to identify the most important unprotected natural lands in the state; link or connect these lands through a system of corridors or connectors; and save those lands through targeted acquisitions and easements. It is estimated that the state’s green infrastructure contains roughly 2 million acres of undeveloped land, of which three-quarters are currently unprotected.
Another important land preservation measure approved by the Maryland General Assembly gives an individual state income tax credit in exchange for the donation of a perpetual easement in land to the Maryland Environmental Trust or the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.