Bay Journal

October 2015 - Volume 25 - Number 7
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Harris Creek reef restoration at 350 acres, is largest ever

Harris Creek was once home to nearly 1,500 acres of Maryland’s best oyster reefs, but in recent decades its oyster population — like those in much of the Bay — had dramatically dwindled.

When biologists surveyed the creek a few years ago, “we barely found an acre that was functioning at what we would consider the historic level,” said Stephanie Westby, oyster project coordinator with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office.

In fact, only a few hundred thousand oysters remained. With few oysters to rebuild them, the reefs had deteriorated.

American chestnuts rise where other trees failed to make a stand

In no place is the optimism of the American chestnut restoration more evident than on the barren slopes of abandoned mines on the tops of Appalachian mountains.

Here, where entire mountain tops have been blasted off and the rubble pushed into valleys, hybrid American chestnuts, including Restoration Chestnut 1.0 trees, are being planted to reclaim the ruined landscape, as well as provide information essential to the widespread re-establishment of a stronger, disease-resistant tree.

Old-timers said that these ridge tops once looked like they were covered in snow during June and July because of all the flowering chestnut trees, according to Michael French, restoration specialist for The American Chestnut Foundation. “When you look at the surface mines today, that’s where most of them are, up high where chestnuts were dominant before the chestnut blight.”

Tiny home residents taking big steps to leave smaller footprints

Even in the tiny kitchen in his tiny house, Brian Levy makes room for a microwave, a KitchenAid mixer and a whipped cream canister.

“The whole idea with this project is to have people question how much space they need,” Levy said, noting that his kitchen, which spans the 10-foot width of the 22-foot-long structure he’s dubbed the “Minim House,” can churn out enough food for an impressive garden party.

Perched on a triangular alley lot in the Stronghold neighborhood of the District of Columbia, Levy’s tiny house is all about showing visitors that they could live with less, even if, technically, no one lives in this 240-square-foot house full time.

Back-cross American chestnut project raising hopes for tree’s restoration

On a late June morning, Matt Brinckman reached into the branches of a 50-foot American chestnut tree adorned with 100 or so small white paper bags — each of which fully covered the flower at the end of the outer branches.

“They are receptive,” he called down to Jerre Creighton, research forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry, who was running the bucket truck that lifted Brinckman up into the tree.

Brinckman, a regional science coordinator with The American Chestnut Foundation, removed one of the bags and dipped the flower into a container the size of a film canister to cover the female parts with pollen from a tree specially bred by the foundation.

New sewage treatment plant to serve 2 MD towns near Choptank River

In late summer, public officials in northern Caroline County, MD, celebrated the opening of a new $19 million sewage treatment plant that will both replace the antiquated plant in Greensboro and connect to homes in nearby Goldsboro, nearly all of which are on failing septic systems.

The new system will reduce the nitrogen that flows into the Choptank River from the two towns by 83 percent and phosphorus by about 90 percent. The improvement is especially important because the plant sits at the headwaters of the Choptank, and data show that the loads to the river are far greater upstream than where the river meets the Chesapeake.

Group hopes that SAV transplants will pump new life into Anacostia

From the shore of the Anacostia River, clusters of water stargrass and hydrilla could be seen swaying just beneath the water’s surface near Buzzard Point, the southernmost tip of the District of Columbia.

This submerged aquatic vegetation was a good sign for the group of people stepping into waders on the shore on a hot afternoon in early September. 

Electrofishing’s stunning success in harvesting blue catfish raises concerns

For years, George Trice watched as blue catfish numbers on the James River grew, while his blue crab catches dwindled.

The James is filled with huge numbers of catfish that are “eating the whole river up” including the crabs, the Poquoson-based waterman said.

So Trice, as he puts it, is working to get even. He does that by sticking two electrodes into the river and sending a low-frequency electric jolt through the water.

Invasion of body snatchers turns mud crabs into zombies

One creature invades the body of another. It snakes through the tissue and takes root, changing the behavior and appearance of its host. And then, a reproductive victory: The host must raise the invader’s young in place of its own.

This sounds like science fiction, but it’s not. It’s a real world biological process taking place largely unnoticed in portions of the Chesapeake Bay.

The players in this drama are the small, white-clawed mud crab and an even smaller parasite called the Loxothylacus panopaei or Loxo for short.

Fishermen encouraged to take big bite out of Bay’s blue catfish population

For years, Rocky Rice made his living primarily by fishing two of the Bay’s most iconic species: striped bass in the spring and blue crabs much of the summer.

But after several years of poor blue crab catches, and with new catch limits on striped bass being put in place, Rice added one of the Bay’s most troublesome species to his mix: blue catfish.

Last year, he went from spending six days a week harvesting blue crabs to three. The other days he went after the growing population of blue catfish.

MD DNR creates position to address concerns of watermen

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has created a new position to handle the concerns of those who fish, oyster, clam and crab in Maryland waters.

George O’Donnell, a Queen Anne’s County native and longtime waterman, was named the department’s fisheries customer relations manager. O’Donnell was a two-term commissioner in Queen Anne’s County, where he served 1994–2002 with the new DNR secretary Mark Belton, who was the county administrator from 1999 to 2003.

Belton said he hired O’Donnell because “I know him, he knows me, and it’s easy for us to communicate.”

Large-scale oyster restoration under way in 6 tributaries

With construction completed at Harris Creek, biologists have proved they can build massive oyster reefs unimaginable a few years ago.

Now, the question is: Can they complete nine more in the next decade to meet the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement goal of restoring oyster populations in 10 tributaries by 2025?

“We now know we can do at least one, and that one was pretty big,” said Stephanie Westby, oyster project coordinator with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office. “I think it is certainly feasible to get to 10 by 2025. But we are going to need to speed up to some degree to get there.”

Environmentalists seek moratorium on new Eastern Shore chicken houses

A coalition of environmental organizations on Tuesday will call for Maryland to consider an immediate moratorium on allowing more poultry houses to be built on the Eastern Shore.

The groups are responding to a report from the Washington-based Environmental Integrity Project that raises concerns about the number of poultry houses that have been permitted during the past two years. That, in turn, could increase the amount of manure that will need to be transferred to other farms within the Delmarva Peninsula, where large amounts of land are already saturated with phosphorus from chicken litter.

Corps, oyster farmers discuss how to streamline leasing process

Maryland oyster farmers have long said that growing the shellfish is the easy part of their job. The hard part:  all of the bureaucratic red tape they have to wade through to obtain their leases in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Tuesday, Sen. Benjamin Cardin invited a few oyster farmers to Horn Point Laboratory near Cambridge for a discussion on how he could help ease those permitting problems. Sitting next to him was the man whom many oyster farmers and policy makers hope will make it happen: Col. Edward P. Chamberlayne, the new commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore district.

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