Bay Journal

December 2016 - Volume 26 - Number 9
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Derelict pots killing 3.3 million crabs annually in the Bay

When Virginia closed its winter dredge fishery in 2008, waterman Clay Justis turned his attention from catching crabs that season to collecting the gear that captures them.
He was one of several watermen hired under a program that taught them to use sonar to find and remove lost and abandoned fishing gear, primarily crab pots, littering the bottom of the Bay.

“As a waterman, I knew there was stuff on the bottom, but when I turned the machine on, I was like, ‘Wow!’” said Justis, who fishes out of Accomack on the Eastern Shore.

Volunteer pilots offer environmentalists an eye in the sky

Jeremy Jacobsohn guided his Piper Arrow down a runway at Lee Airport toward a kaleidoscope of fall color in the woods ahead. As the plane ascended, leaving suburban Edgewater behind, the houses became tiny dots and the Chesapeake Bay came slowly into view.

“This is the roller coaster part,” he said with a laugh.

Soon, Jacobsohn swooped south over the white-capped Chesapeake, then past the forested haven of Parker’s Creek in Calvert County toward Dominion’s liquefied natural gas plant under construction at Cove Point.

Baltimore group can see the urban forests amid the trees

With apologies to Robert Frost, these woods in Northeast Baltimore are lovely and dark, if not so deep. Towering oaks screen out the sun, while fallen leaves carpet the ground of this sylvan oasis in the Chesapeake Bay region’s second largest city. A faded sign on the street corner identifies it as “HEPP Park.”

Many foresters might not call this 4-acre woodland a forest. On a recent visit, there was no escaping the brassy blare of a high school band practicing nearby. In a small clearing, a pile of beer cans and other debris suggested it’s a popular hangout.

But the surrounding urban landscape of homes, vehicles and asphalt faded from view after just a short walk among the trees. And not long ago, a pair of red-shouldered hawks found it a quiet enough spot to build their nest.

Alexandria’s plan to deal with sewage overflows draws criticism

Whenever it rains hard in Alexandria, VA, millions of gallons of sewage-fouled stormwater pour untreated from the city’s aged, overwhelmed sewer system into the Potomac River and its tributaries.

It’s a problem caused by centuries-old infrastructure that the city has been studying and slowly working on for decades. Under a plan endorsed by Virginia’s environmental regulators, it may take the city another 20 years or more to fix it and stop routinely polluting the Chesapeake Bay tributary.

That’s too late for environmental activists and some city residents, who say bacterial contamination from the sewage overflows — which totaled 130 million gallons last year — pose health risks for adults and children who kayak, row and otherwise recreate on the river.

Eden sprouts from VA church’s gardens

A little bit of Eden grows in South Richmond. That’s the name members of the Second Baptist Church have given to the community garden they started last spring beside their building.

That quarter-acre patch of ground has yielded a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables through summer and fall that’s nourished church members and neighbors alike: tomatoes, peppers, beans, snow peas, melons, mustard greens, berries, garlic, herbs and much more.

Eden’s Community Garden is the highlight of an environmental transformation of Second Baptist’s grounds that’s taken place over the past year with help from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others.

Goldsborough has been the calm in the storm of fisheries management

Bill Goldsborough was the perfect person to build an environmental education outpost on Maryland’s Smith Island. With a love of fishing and an environmental science degree from the University of Virginia, the young Chesapeake Bay Foundation staffer took to the marshy isolation of Tylerton. He built relations between the group known for its “Save the Bay” bumper stickers and the crabbers and oystermen who weren’t quite sure what that phrase meant for them.

Islanders who at first suspected that Goldsborough was an undercover game warden came to accept that he was no man of the law. And after two idyllic years as a resident, Goldsborough returned to the mainland, but continued to be a frequent visitor — until the 1990s. Then, the islanders’ beloved CBF educator began pressing for harvest restrictions on blue crabs, the mainstay of Smith Island. Islanders put up signs condemning the Bay Foundation. And Goldsborough decided not to return. For 16 years, he hasn’t.

Conowingo’s, Bay’s mutual relationship finally ran its course

For decades, the Chesapeake Bay’s biggest friend was the Conowingo Dam.

Even before scientists realized the Bay was sick from too much nitrogen and phosphorus, the 94-foot concrete wall on the Bay’s largest tributary was holding back tens of millions of pounds of the nutrients that would have fueled even more greenish algae blooms.

The friendship was severely tested at times. Tropical Storm Agnes flushed huge amounts of stored sediment from behind the dam and into the Bay, smothering grass beds and oyster reefs, and causing general havoc. And migratory fish were none too happy that it became nearly impossible to swim up the Susquehanna River to spawn, despite huge investments in “fish elevators.”

But without the dam, more nutrients and water-clouding sediment would have poured into the Bay for most of the past century. Algae blooms would have been more intense, and oxygen-starved dead zones would have been even larger.

Now, scientists say, the dam’s reservoir is filled and in a state of “dynamic equilibrium” — what comes into the reservoir goes out.

MD watermen want 14,000 acres of oyster sanctuary open to harvesting

The debate over Maryland’s oyster management is heating up, as watermen are pushing to open 14,000 acres of the state’s extensive sanctuary network to harvest.

Only about 1,340 of those acres actually have oysters on them, Department of Natural Resources officials said. But they include opening to harvest part of a river that’s undergone large-scale, publicly funded restoration of its reefs and oyster population.
The proposals, outlined at a meeting of the DNR’s Oyster Advisory Commission in November, drew immediate pushback from environmentalists and scientists. And a federal fisheries official warned that granting watermen’s request to open portions of the Little Choptank River could undermine oyster repopulation efforts under way as part of Maryland’s commitment to the Chesapeake Bay restoration.

MD may shorten season for cownose bowfishing tournaments

The cownose ray may be about to get a reprieve.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is considering declaring the kite-shaped marine creature a species “in need of conservation” and setting some first-ever harvest limits to protect them.

The agency last month called for public comment — though with only limited notice — on whether to place a limited ban on bowfishing tournaments that take place each spring and summer in the Chesapeake Bay targeting the rays, many of which are pregnant at the time.

Green roofs raising interest, but can localities raise funding?

There are plenty of obstacles to overcome when convincing developers — and the public — that green roofs are better than a rooftop swimming pool, garage or plain old shingles.

But two municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are throwing everything they’ve got at the challenge, with the hope that green roofs — as well as rain gardens, bioswales and a host of other water-absorbing practices — will help to reduce the amount of polluted stormwater flowing off their concrete landscapes to the nearest river.

Now that the District of Columbia and Maryland’s Prince George’s County have rolled out programs meant to encourage more such installations, are they seeing the predicted deluge of new projects?

Dominion fined $260,000 for two spills in Virginia

Dominion Virginia Power has agreed to pay a $260,000 fine for two mineral oil spills earlier this year, including one that fouled a stretch of the Potomac River near Washington, D.C.

The state Department of Environmental Quality announced Monday that it had negotiated a “consent order” with Dominion to pay a civil charge of $259,535 for the spills, both in January, in Crystal City in Arlington County and near Staunton in Augusta County.

The order also proposes that the state be reimbursed $5,883 for its expenses investigating both incidents, and it requires the company to finish restoration work at the Augusta spill site and check through next January for residual contamination in Arlington.

Menhaden catch cap eased, pleasing no one

East Coast fishery managers agreed Wednesday to bump up next year’s catch limit on Atlantic menhaden, a compromise that satisfied neither commercial fishing interests nor conservationists.

Meeting in Bar Harbor, Maine, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to allow a 6.5 percent increase in the harvest of menhaden, a little oily fish that no one eats but is the largest catch, by weight, in the Chesapeake Bay. They’re used to make animal meal and health supplements, and as bait to catch crabs, striped bass and other fish. But they’re also considered a vital link in the marine food chain, and a staple in the diet of striped bass and other predators. For all of those reasons, their management stirs intense passion.

The commission, which regulates near-shore fishing from Maine to Florida, had deadlocked in August over whether to raise the allowable menhaden catch next year. It began its final meeting of the year this week facing the need to set some limit, or there would be no cap at all in 2017.

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