Bay Journal

May 2016 - Volume 26 - Number 3
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Fearsome ‘frankenfish’ now called ‘pork of the Potomac’

The northern snakehead was already starring in horror films like "Frankenfish" and "Snakehead Terror"  by the time it showed up in the Potomac River in 2004.

They didn’t have to be blockbusters to send the message: This fish is to be feared. A native of China, the Channa argus had been snagging national headlines about the havoc it would wreak since it was first discovered in a Crofton, MD, pond in 2002. It could eat everything around and then walk overland to another water body to do it again. Or so the rap went.

Since then, snakeheads have proliferated and spread like wildfire, as many had feared. But, along the way, their fearsome reputation has softened some, at least among recreational anglers who’ve found they’re fun to catch and not bad tasting either.

Latest weapon to reduce marine debris? Biodegradable shotgun wads

In the struggle against litter, inventive minds have come up with a passel of products that disappear on their own if carelessly discarded in the outdoors. Biodegradable bags, bottles and plates, to name a few. Next up: ammunition, perhaps?

Researchers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science are developing a biodegradable shotgun wad to deal with one of the more common types of plastic debris found in wetlands and waterways.

“I never expected to be dealing with shotgun shells but it does show how widespread and ubiquitous plastic is,” said environmental scientist Kirk Havens, director of VIMS Center for Coastal Resources Management.

VA advances plan to reduce marine debris, from bits to boats

Attendees at the Second Virginia Marine Debris Summit watched in horror as the man in the YouTube video showed how to apply glitter to his beard.

Rather than marvel at this flashy new fashion fad, they focused on how thousands of bits of shiny plastic glitter would be washed down the drain, where some could make it through wastewater treatment plants and wind up in the water or become part of the biosolids spread on farm fields. Or consumed by shellfish on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. Or join the 20 million tons of plastic marine litter that end up in the oceans every year.

It’s a daunting problem. But big problems call for a strategic response — and the Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan, developed two years ago, is providing a road map for state agencies, nongovernmental groups, businesses and citizens to tackle the issue, piece by unsightly piece.

PA state senator predicts a ‘greener’ future for GOP

Like many Republicans in Pennsylvania, Richard Alloway believes in smaller government, the sanctity of the Second Amendment and the promise of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

But the GOP state senator representing South Central Pennsylvania also believes in clean water. He has planted thousands of trees across his district, pushed for more funding for farmers to help them curb their runoff, and is working on a bill to regulate the fertilizing of lawns.

Elected in 2009, Alloway said he has always been an environmentalist; he grew up hunting and fishing in Pennsylvania’s vast outdoors.

Anacostia Park, once planned as an urban oasis, still more of a mirage

Just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, begins a swath of riverfront green space about 1.5 times the size of Central Park. Here, a short walk from homes that sell for more than half a million dollars each, geese outnumber people. The river is quiet, with scarcely a boat in sight. On a clear day, a visitor can see into the windows of the gleaming new condos rising on the other shore.

Anacostia Park was supposed to be an urban oasis, a city escape that would feature a swimming lake, Tivoli-style gardens, pleasure boating and fishing. Yet, nearly 100 years after the federal government established it on the city’s northeast side, Anacostia Park remains a place yet to reach its potential.

After decades of shellacking, river’s slow return to life showing up in mussel hunt

It was hard to hear Jorge Bogantes Montero above the din of traffic helicopters circling over Washington, DC, as he described the handful of muddy shells he and a small team had just dug from the mucky bottom of the Anacostia River.

In a couple hours of combing through the thick mud exposed at low tide, they’d found the shells of two Eastern floaters, a paper pondshell and a nonnative Asian clam — not much, perhaps, but something for an urban river that many still think of as containing little life, let alone mussels.

Taking cover from a sudden downpour under the footbridge that connects the river’s Kingman and Heritage islands, Montero explained why he and others from the Anacostia Watershed Society were on this wild mussel chase in the first place, seeking specimens dead or alive.

2010 food poisoning cases linked to Asian bacteria in raw oysters

A 6-year-old outbreak of food poisoning linked to eating raw Chesapeake Bay oysters has left behind a lingering mystery. Scientists seeking to identify the water-borne pathogen that sickened a pair of Baltimore restaurant patrons have tracked the culprit to Asia.

How a potent strain of Vibrio bacteria seemingly from so far away wound up in the Bay continues to puzzle Maryland health officials, who worked with researchers at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate the 2010 cases.

The microorganism could have gotten here in the ballast water of the many oceangoing ships that ply the Chesapeake every year, state and federal scientists suggested in a recently published journal article. Or, they added, perhaps it came via the introduction of nonnative oysters or some exotic fish.

Officials vow VA will protect watershed if pipeline goes ahead

As Dominion presses ahead with plans to build an interstate natural gas pipeline across Virginia, state officials vow to have new regulations and staffing in place to limit the massive project’s environmental impact.

Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward said the state will ensure that the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline does not add to the sediment fouling the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality said new rules should be in place before construction begins.

Some environmentalists remain skeptical, though, contending that the state has done little to ride herd on such projects to date. Though the state’s erosion and sediment control regulation already applies to pipeline construction, environmental activist Rick Webb asserted that the DEQ has failed to enforce it, other than to approve variances from the rules.

Bay Commission has quietly pushed region’s environmental agenda for 35 years

The Chesapeake Bay region is filled with environmental groups and government entities that have worked to stop pollution, preserve forests and farmland, and save endangered places from rampant development. These groups tend to put out press releases that tout their accomplishments and work hard to raise money so they can do more.

But there is one body that has, for more than 35 years, been instrumental in passing some of the most important legislation affecting the troubled estuary: the Chesapeake Bay Commission. And many people have never heard of it.

MD study to determine how many oysters can be harvested sustainably

It took a last-minute compromise, but Maryland is finally on track to get a scientific assessment of how many oysters can be harvested sustainably from its portion of the Chesapeake Bay without endangering the ecologically vital shellfish population.

The state’s General Assembly approved a bill in the waning hours of its 90-day session that tasks the Department of Natural Resources with conducting an assessment of the state’s wild oyster stock to determine if harvests are within safe parameters. The DNR must work with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and subject its findings to peer review by independent researchers.

The oyster study bill proved to be one of the more controversial environmental bills adopted during the session, which ended at midnight on April 11.

VA shellfish aquaculture off slightly in 2015; cold winter cited

Virginia’s shellfish aquaculture industry raked in less money last year but continues to outpace the rest of the East Coast in both clam and oyster production, according to a recent report.

The state’s farm-raised oysters and clams last year were worth a combined $48.3 million, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimated. Hard clams accounted for two-thirds of the total value, $32.3 million, while oysters were estimated at $16 million.

Despite progress, states likely to fall short of interim cleanup targets

Take one Conowingo Dam, sprinkle it with a bit of climate change, mix in an unhealthy amount of phosphorus-saturated soil and you could have the recipe for a big Bay headache.

Those are some of the major science and policy issues that local, state and federal officials are grappling with as they take stock of where Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts stand with the halfway mark approaching in the agreed-upon timetable for reaching restoration goals.

For several years now, officials have been preparing for what’s known as the “midpoint assessment,” mulling over new science, monitoring data, land use and other local information to gauge the effectiveness of actions taken to date. And perhaps even more importantly, they’re trying to understand what’s changed since the latest Bay cleanup goal was set in 2010.

Bay grasses expand to greatest extent in more than 30 years

The Bay’s underwater grass meadows, a critical habitat for crabs and juvenile fish, expanded last year to the highest levels seen since monitoring programs began more than three decades ago.

The gains were widespread, from high-salinity waters in the lower Chesapeake to tidal fresh areas in its uppermost reaches. A number of areas had more grass acreage than had ever been observed, and scientists found isolated patches in places they had never seen grasses before.

The 91,631 acres photographed during the annual aerial survey is nearly half of the Bay Program goal. It also exceeded the 2017 restoration objective two years ahead of schedule — as long as the grasses hang on this year and next.

Exelon, USF&WS agree on upgraded fish passage at Conowingo

Exelon Corp. has pledged in a deal announced Monday to work to enhance spawning fish passage at Conowingo Dam over the next 50 years, seeking to revive the Susquehanna River’s meager stocks of American shad and river herring.

The Chicago-based company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they had reached agreement to improve at least one of two fish lifts at Conowingo and meanwhile start trucking migratory shad and river herring upriver past it and three other dams in Pennsylvania.

The agreement comes after years of negotiations between the company and wildlife agencies and conservation groups, which were seeking to revive the once-legendary spawning runs of shad and herring. The number of returning fish each spring has been trending downward since the 1980s, and wildlife agencies and conservationists wanted Exelon to make potentially costly upgrades to fish lifts there as a condition of renewing its federal license to operate the hydroelectric facility.

Chesapeake’s blue crab population at highest level in 4 years

The Bay’s blue crab population increased to its highest level in four years, and the number of spawning-age females — a key ingredient for future abundance — nearly doubled from last year, according to survey results released Tuesday.

Results from the annual winter dredge survey conducted by Maryland and Virginia put the Bay’s crab population at 553 million, a 35 percent increase from last year’s tally and the greatest number seen in the Chesapeake since 2012.

Fishery managers in both states said the good news may warrant some loosening of harvest restrictions imposed during recent low years, but cautioned against expecting large changes.

Potomac earns B- in latest report card; highest mark yet

The four report cards issued by the Potomac Conservancy to score the health of its local river since 2007 read like a resume for “most improved” river. The first two grades were Ds, followed by a C in 2013 and, Wednesday, the river earned its highest grade yet: a B-.

The report that accompanies the letter grade indicates the Chesapeake Bay tributary is less polluted, more protected and more widely used as a recreational asset than it has been in decades, but it still leaves room for improvement.

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