VA sturgeon hatchery possible

"Atlantic sturgeon under consideration for endangered species list" (February 2010) was informative and timely. But the section about the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' initial efforts to establish a Maryland sturgeon hatchery tended to suggest that hatchery options are not worth consideration in Virginia because there are still a few sturgeon left.

The World Sturgeon Conservation Society (www.wscs.info) is an international organization working to conserve and promote sturgeon population growth. The WSCS has numerous publications on sturgeon, including aquaculture and reproduction. There are programs to increase populations of white sturgeon on the west coast of the United States and Canada (www.saskriversturgeon.ca) and landlocked white sturgeon in several western states. A Michigan group, Sturgeon for Tomorrow (www.sturgeonfortomorrow.org) also has an energetic program.

The efforts of the James River Association and others (www.jamesriverassociation.org)?to create a new sturgeon spawning reef on the river are outstanding. There is also substantial prior experience to establish sturgeon hatcheries in Virginia. If small hatcheries could be established upriver on the James, York and other rivers using a few sturgeon from the James, it would be possible to release populations of fingerling sturgeon into Virginia's rivers to help increase future sturgeon stocks. Perhaps the Virginia Institute of Marine Science could help with this.

A mate for the one lonely sturgeon at the Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach could be provided and the habitat improved to encourage natural reproduction.

Helping to restore sturgeon is a project where an alliance for Chesapeake Bay sturgeon could make significant progress.

Of course, along with this we need to create a much higher level of political pressure to enable Virginia government agencies to significantly improve riparian buffers to cut down on the amount of silt and pollution entering our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, degrading sturgeon spawning habitat.

Bill Fleming
Virginia Beach, VA

Coastal zone mismanagement

Chesapeake Bay needs all the help it can get, as well as all of the tools in the toolbox. Thus, it is curious that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Zone Management Program does not appear on your website and rarely shows up in the Bay Journal. (Bill Matuzeski does mention it in a commentary in March 1999.)

And, like the Chesapeake Bay, the Coastal Zone Management Program is also in trouble.

Although most people no longer remember it, Sen. Henry Jackson, D-WA, twice passed a national land use planning bill through the Senate. It did not become law, and Congress instead passed the national Coastal Zone Management Act in 1972 to preserve, protect, develop-and where possible-restore or enhance the resources of the nation's coastal zone.

This was based on a voluntary concept that the feds would provide coastal zone planning funding to any state that met minimal coastal zone management program requirements. In return, the feds promised consistency with the programs, and states would get to veto federal permits and projects occurring in the coastal zone.

Washington was the first state to have its proposed program rejected, and then approved in 1976. The Maryland program was approved in 1978 and Virginia's in 1986. All of Delaware is covered by its program, which was approved in 1979. The Pennsylvania and New York programs do not cover the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

NOAA's office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management in the Department of Commerce administers, funds and evaluates states' coastal zone management programs.

Sec. 312 of the Coastal Zone Management Act calls for a continuing Ocean and Coastal Resource Management evaluation of a program and a state's performance reports. This includes public comment and meetings. Although states receive annual or biannual federal grants, the office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management has drifted from three-year evaluations to evaluations every five years. This makes it nearly impossible for citizens to effectively comment on a state's program during the Sec. 312 evaluation process.

Even worse, our newest commerce secretary, Gary Locke (former governor of Washington) has allowed the office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to break the law regarding Sec. 312 evaluations. In 2009, the Washington state Sec. 312 evaluation covered a five-year period. Contrary to Sec. 312(b), the office did not provide timely notices of the public meeting in newspapers of general circulation in the state or communications with persons and organizations known to be interested in the evaluation. In addition, under the act's regulations (15 CFR 923.134(b)(1)), the office is to make available the state's performance report and supplemental information request. Contrary to the regulations, the office treated a request for Washington's performance reports as a Freedom of Information Act request.

Discouraging public comment on how federal dollars are spent by the coastal states has been going on for years at the office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

The last evaluation of the Delaware program took place in 2006. No member of the public attended the one public meeting held in 2005. The last Virginia evaluation took place in 2007. No member of the public attended the one public meeting in 2006. The last Maryland evaluation took place in 2008. Five members of the public attended the one public meeting in 2007.

It is time to hammer Secretary Locke and President Barack Obama with the fact that a voluntary program to preserve, protect, restore or enhance the resources of the nation's coastal zone is not working.

David E. Ortman
Ortman has served on the boards of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Coast Alliance

Menhaden madness

I am compelled to comment on the commentary, "There's no problem with menhaden population, only what is believed about it" (February 2010). At the outset, Ron Lukens states "since the fisheries inception in the 1700s, the Atlantic menhaden population is as robust and healthy today as it has ever been". FACT: The 2006 stock assessment shows a 72 percent decline in abundance from 1979 to 2006. Doesn't seem very "robust" to me.

He correctly states that for years the stock assessments have characterized the stock as "not overfished and overfishing is not occurring."

The upcoming stock assessment will not be presenting such a rosy picture. This time, the assessment will contain data on mortality by age classes and will demonstrate severe overfishing of the age 3+ (breeding stock). Any wonder why recruitment is in the cellar Recommendations on corrective measures are to be included. This represents such a departure from prior years that we will have to wait to see if it passes peer review.

Lukens comments on the filtration capabilities of menhaden to "clean coastal waters" are interesting. He states that "most scientists know this is not true." Strange, there are many studies that attest to menhaden's capability to remove particulates from the water. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science study he refers to concluded that only age 0 and 1 have the capability to remove nitrogen, which has been the object of most concern and study. In the Chesapeake Bay, the particle size of algae has diminished and renders the larger menhaden ineffective.

Nitrogen is not the only factor to consider. Sediment is a serious problem in Bay waters and menhaden remove this also. No mention is made of any removals other than nitrogen, which tends to undervalue the filtering capacity of menhaden. Menhaden may not be able to "clean coastal waters" but they help to do so.

It also should be noted that according to National Marine Fisheries Service data for 2009, age 0 and 1 removals by the reduction fishery comprised 47 percent of the catch. Certainly not helping the Chesapeake Bay.

I note that Lukens states that "most scientists and managers would agree that fisheries management could use more money to fund research and data collection." Well, if I were a scientist during a time of diminished economy I'd welcome an income stream. Also, research breeds more research.

Managers may also agree because waiting for a silver bullet allows difficult decisions to be deferred. The five years of research have not provided a basis for management action.

The problem here is not a lack of information, it is a lack of management. Perhaps the best research would be to figure out how to get managers to manage.

Charles Hutchinson
Cambridge, MD