Bay Journal

May 2011 - Volume 21 - Number 3

Blue catfish boom threatens region’s river ecosystems

When a 102-pound, 4-ounce blue catfish was caught on the James River south of Richmond in May 2009, it took two men to land the behemoth. It was the largest blue catfish ever landed in a Bay tributary.

But it's a record that may not stand for long.

Blue catfish populations are booming around the Chesapeake. Overall numbers and average sizes of the predators continue to increase in the James, the Potomac and likely in several Maryland tributaries.

The lower James in particular has become nationally recognized for its production of trophy-size blue catfish, which support a multimillion dollar recreational fishery. Several guides work full time taking anglers to hot spots. ...

Environmentalists post few victories in 2011 VA, MD legislation

Environmentalists in Maryland and Virginia did not have high hopes for the 2011 legislative session. And yet, they still walked away disappointed.

Maryland priorities, including a two-year, industry-paid study on Marcellus shale gas drilling and an effort to start an offshore wind farm, didn't pass.

The renewable energy legislation that made it through was not what clean-energy advocates had in mind - a bill to make waste-to-energy incinerators, which use trash as fuel, eligible for renewable energy credits. ...

Groups seek impact statement on effects of Marcellus Shale drilling

Eight environmental groups are asking the federal government to conduct an environmental impact statement on the cumulative effects of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Already, many companies have descended on Chesapeake Bay watershed states with rich shale deposits - among them Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York - and begun drilling for the gas deposits that lie 8,000 feet below the surface. Yet little is known about the total effects of this drilling and the damage it can do to water supplies, forests, air quality, fish and bird habitats, and drinking water. ...

EPA releases guide to achieving nutrient reduction goals on the local level

Now that the Bay region has a new cleanup plan, the EPA wants states to bring those plans closer to people's doorsteps.

Last December, the EPA established a total maximum daily load, or TMDL, for the Bay that set nutrient and sediment limits for each state and major tributary. The limits were designed to restore the Bay's water quality.

In response, states were required to submit, and have approved by the EPA, watershed implementation plans, or WIPs, showing what actions they would take to meet the nutrient and sediment limits set by the TMDL. ...

Bay’s SAV beds decreased 7%; hotter temperatures blamed

The acreage of underwater grass beds in the Chesapeake fell by 7 percent last year, a decline that scientists said appeared to be due, at least in part, to higher than normal temperatures that dominated the region early in the growing season.

Despite the setback, the 79,675 acres observed during the annual aerial survey was the third highest since surveys began in 1984.

But that figure may underestimate last year's decline. Scientists say that eelgrass, which is the dominant underwater grass in high-salinity areas of the Bay, appeared to suffer a heat-related die-off after the 2010 survey was completed. ...

Decision on 152-mile high-voltage transmission line getting down to wire

Citizens and conservation groups in Maryland are anxiously awaiting a series of decisions that could lead to a massive new power line that would impact cultural and natural resources on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay-or could undercut the project completely.

The Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway is a new, high-voltage transmission line proposed by Pepco Holdings Inc., MAPP would move energy along a 152-mile route from northern Virginia to the Delmarva Peninsula.

Feds, states concerned about striped bass poaching, mortality

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission remains concerned about striped bass poaching in both Maryland and federal waters, and is working on a comprehensive plan to combat fishing mortality in general, according to officials.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources discovered illegal drift nets and seized more than 12 tons of illegally caught striped bass in February. The commission, which regulates fishing along the East Coast, was briefed about the poaching situation at its March meeting in Alexandria. ...

Ruling makes it harder to regulate large animal operations’ discharges

A new ruling by the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit may make it harder for the EPA to track and regulate pollution from animal farms.

The court ruled that the Clean Water Act did not give the EPA the authority to require the farms, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, to obtain discharge permits on the presumption they would discharge pollution to the waters of the state.

Since 2008, the EPA has required all animal farms that qualified as CAFOs to get permits whether they discharged pollution to public water or not. The EPA claimed a farm's potential to discharge pollution was all that was needed to require a permit. ...

WV passes bill to pay for sewage plant upgrades

West Virginia wastewater treatment plants will be sending cleaner effluent down the Potomac River in coming years thanks to state legislation that will help pay to upgrade plants in the Bay watershed.

A bill approved by the state legislature and signed in April by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin sets aside $6 million of surplus state lottery funds annually for the next 30 years to fund $85 million in bonds that will help pay for upgrades.

Thirteen major wastewater treatment plants are in the eight Eastern Panhandle counties that drain into the Potomac, many of which have been experiencing rapid population growth, and several of the plants were facing large upgrade costs. ...

MD to study pollution from septic tanks

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has announced plans to form a task force to study pollution from septic tanks and find a way to reduce their pollution.

About 411,000 homes in Maryland are on septic systems, which contribute about 6 percent of the overall nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. However, septics can make a much bigger impact on certain river systems, such as the Severn, where close to one-third of the homes have been built on septic systems. And in several towns in Caroline County, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, the septic systems routinely fail and have polluted a nearby lake. ...

ASMFC calls for reducing catch of menhaden to let more adults reproduce

Regional fishery managers agreed in March that a greater proportion of the Atlantic menhaden's spawning population should be protected, a decision that may lead to reduced catches and ultimately more of the fish.

The menhaden, a small, oily fish, supports a major commercial fishery in the Bay but is also an important food source for striped bass and other predator fish.

Current management strategies of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission call for allowing 9 percent of the spawning stock to survive until they have a chance to reproduce. ASMFC's Menhaden Management Board called for amending current management plans to allow 15 percent of the spawning stock to reproduce. ...

After TMDL process, Bay Program finds itself at a crossroads

Standing inside a tent while rain drizzled outside, regional leaders gathered in June 2000 to outline a bright future for the Bay and its watershed. It was a future in which sprawl development would be reined in, oyster populations rebuilt and Bay water quality restored.

"This new agreement is historic, without a doubt," proclaimed then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner, as she and other Bay leaders signed the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.

Some of the agreement's 102 commitments have been achieved or exceeded, such as permanently protecting 20 percent of the watershed from development, establishing more than 500 miles of water trails, and opening more than 1,357 miles of river to migratory fish. ...

Bay blue crab numbers at 2nd highest level since 1997

The Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population is continuing to rebound.

The annual winter dredge survey indicates that the signature crustacean's population is at its second-highest level since 1997. The surveyors estimated there are 460 million crabs in the Chesapeake - nearly double the number in 2007, when the population was heading for a crisis. The next year, the governors of both states, as well as leaders of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, vowed to reduce fishing pressure by 34 percent through a series of restrictions. ...

Land prices going down, but so are funds to preserve them

Tulip poplars and red maples tower over the land that once belonged to Annette Cameron Blum in a rural pocket of Maryland's Northern Harford County. Clear water rushes over bedrock in the stream known as Falling Branch. In the adjacent small vernal pond, salamanders have laid their filmy green eggs. They are hatching, in time with other signs of spring.

The land itself is also enjoying a rebirth. Last year, the 131-acre Cameron-Blum parcel became part of Maryland's state park system. The state purchased it for just less than $1 million with its Program Open Space funds. Eventually, the parcel will be incorporated into nearby Rocks State Park, which features the state's second highest vertical-drop waterfall. ...

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