Bay Journal

June 2018 - Volume 28 - Number 4
Lead story image

PA shad hatchery’s 42-year run may be coming to an end

If you saw this creature in a stream, you’d run for cover.

The footlong image on Josh Tryninewski’s computer screen had an eerie, transparent body with two large bulging eyes at one end. A strange white sac was hanging underneath.

You could find one in a stream, but not easily. It’s not a mutant — but an American shad, just hours after hatching. The one on Tryninewski’s screen was actually a tiny speck just a few millimeters long, floating in a petri dish and greatly magnified through a microscope.

“This is day zero — just welcomed into the world today, in the comfy confines of a nice blue tank,” said Tryninewski, a fisheries biologist with Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission.

The tiny fish was one of roughly 4 million shad expected to be reared this spring in the state’s Van Dyke Hatchery. But the shad “fry” projected onto Tryninewski’s screen could also be among the last.

Back home on their range: Quail find refuge on restored grassland

It’s a little past dawn on a foggy spring morning, but already the field on Maryland’s Upper Eastern Shore is wide awake. From the cover of tall grass and a few shrubs, a multilingual chorus of birds greets the new day with a cacophony of chirps, warbles and whistles, like a symphony tuning up before the concert.

Then, amid the familiar trills of red-winged blackbirds and other feathered regulars, comes a call rarely heard anymore in these parts — bob-WHITE! Down a lane across the field, the black-and-white striped head of a Northern bobwhite quail pokes out of some short grass.

Once commonly heard, if not seen, in brushy meadows and hedgerows, quail have become scarce in Maryland and elsewhere as farming practices have changed, eliminating much of the ground-dwelling birds’ habitat.

MD power plant permits up in air as EPA reconsiders discharge rule

​The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision last year to reconsider a rule directing power plants to reduce toxic pollutants in their wastewater is affecting what Maryland plans to require of three coal-burning facilities in the state. Activists say it’s an example of how the changing federal attitudes toward environmental regulation trickle down to the Chesapeake Bay region.

Five-year pollution discharge permits are up for renewal for these plants: Morgantown on the lower Potomac River in Charles County; Chalk Point on the Patuxent River and Dickerson on the Potomac, north of Washington, DC. All are owned by NRG Energy, Inc., based in Princeton, NJ, though the company is in the process of transferring ownership.

With the future of the EPA rule uncertain, regulators with the Maryland Department of the Environment have tentatively decided to give the facilities at least two years and potentially up to five years before they’d have to curtail discharges of toxic metals like arsenic, mercury and selenium, as well as other pollutants, into the state’s rivers.

Transmitter-equipped eels to pinpoint best place for passages

Biologists are hoping that a group of pathfinding eels will show the way for improved upstream migration on parts of the Potomac River that have been largely off-limits to the slithery fish for nearly two centuries.

In early May, they released 50 eels about a third of a mile below each of two dams upstream of Harpers Ferry. Each had a tiny transmitter inserted so that biologists can track their movements. They especially want to learn the exact location where the eels approach each dam — effectively pinpointing the spots where eel passages are needed and should be built.

New VA governor calls review of DEQ the first step in rebuilding it

It’s been 25 years since four Virginia agencies coalesced to form the department charged with protecting the environment and public health. Now, one of the new governor’s first orders of business suggests it might be time for a makeover.

In April, Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order calling for an overhaul of the state’s beleaguered Department of Environmental Quality, which has seen its staff cut by 30 percent and its budget trimmed by nearly $60 million over the past decade. 

The agency and its director, David Paylor, have been the subject of increased public scrutiny, particularly over the recent approval of two major natural gas pipelines that will cross dozens of streams as they are erected across the state.

Group looks for ways to take trash out of Northern Virginia creek

Betsy Martin can’t help but point out the spring beauties — tiny clusters of purple-pink native flowers breaking up the greenery around her feet — during a walk toward Little Hunting Creek in Fairfax County, VA. She only wishes she were combing the stream’s shores for treasures like these more often. Instead, what brings her and dozens of volunteers here year after year is trash — the muddy, oil-covered sort that’s no one’s treasure.

As president of Friends of Little Hunting Creek, Martin has been organizing annual spring cleanups along the creek’s trashiest stretches for 16 years. Since the group started keeping track in 2006, participants have filled almost 3,500 thirty-gallon trash bags with the usual suspects — thousands of plastic water bottles, Styrofoam takeout boxes and candy wrappers — and unexpected ones, too.

VA at odds with fisheries commission over cap for menhaden caught in Bay

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission warned Virginia in May that the state could soon face action for failing to adopt new menhaden harvest limits established late last year — a process that could lead to a complete closing of its menhaden fishery.

Specifically, Virginia has not established a 51,000 metric ton harvest cap for menhaden caught within the Chesapeake Bay by the Omega Protein reduction fishery based in Reedville, VA.

Bivalve bipartisanship? Environmentalists, watermen have a meeting of the minds

Oysters have been a source of conflict in the Chesapeake Bay for 150 years. While they haven’t provoked any gunfire lately, as they did in the late 1800s, the bivalves still spark heated debates in Maryland over how best to replenish their depleted numbers.

But after two years of meeting behind closed doors, some of the people who’ve been lobbing verbal grenades at each other — watermen and environmentalists — have buried enough of their differences to agree on a wide-ranging set of recommendations for restoring oysters in a pair of Eastern Shore rivers while also aiding the industry that depends on harvesting them.

That’s the outcome of OysterFutures, a $2 million research project aimed at forging consensus on how to achieve both a thriving oyster fishery and ecosystem in the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers.

Seekers for grants from James River mitigation funds told to think big

As construction begins on Dominion Energy’s transmission line across the James River near Virginia’s Historic Jamestowne, almost $15.6 million earmarked for water quality improvement throughout the river’s watershed is starting to flow — as a direct result of the controversial project.

This April, the Virginia Environmental Endowment announced the first round of the James River Water Quality Improvement Program, a cycle of grants that will disburse $15.595 million in funds over the next five to nine years.

“We’re pretty optimistic that we’re going to get a good round,” said Joseph Maroon, executive director of the VEE.

The funds are part of a $91 million package of mitigation payments Dominion Energy has agreed to pay as a condition of its permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct an aerial transmission line from its Surry nuclear power plant to a future switching station to be built at Skiffes Creek near Historic Jamestowne.

Construction of Atlantic Coast Pipeline could be halted by endangered species concerns

One of the federal permits required to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through three states and a portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed was rendered invalid late Tuesday by a federal appellate court.

Environmental groups say the decision should completely halt the pipeline’s construction, at least temporarily, but Dominion Energy, which is backing the project, disagrees.

The permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed for the construction of the 600-mile pipeline to result in the “incidental take” of certain threatened or endangered species, but the court ruled this week that the permit did not provide specific limits that could be enforced or monitored.

Chesapeake Bay blue crab population remains stable

Blue crab abundance has decreased from 2017, but remains near its long-term average level, according to results from a closely watched survey released Wednesday.

The annual winter dredge survey showed that the total number of crabs and the number of spawning-age females are down from last year, while the number of juveniles has ticked upward.

Results would have been better, scientists said, had it not been for the lethal toll extracted by a cold winter. They estimated that cold conditions killed 16 percent of adult crabs in Maryland and 8 percent in Virginia — where most of the crustaceans overwinter.

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