Bay Journal

June 1995 - Volume 5 - Number 4

Save the Sturgeon?

In the hazy past of early settlement history, a giant fish from another age - the time of dinosaurs - briefly played a critical role in the economic and physical survival of the colony that represented England's toehold in North America.

Before there was tobacco, sturgeon eggs were the leading "cash crop" from Jamestown, shipped to meet England's appetite for caviar. And in the food-short colony, survival on several occasions depended on stockpiles of sturgeon meat.

The fish after all, was abundant: John Smith wrote that "no place affords more plenty of sturgeon." Of course, Smith was a tireless promoter of New World wealth, and had a reputation for exaggeration. But his claim was backed up by Captain Christopher Newport who in 1607 observed that the James River "abounds with sturgeon, very large and excellent." ...

Shad rebound around the Bay

With several weeks remaining in the migration season, the number of American shad captured at the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River through May was nearly twice last year's record mark - the latest sign that the Bay's shad are enjoying their best spawning run in years.

"I've been working the past week just keeping track of all the records we are breaking," William Peirson, an environmental specialist for Conowingo Dam owner PECO Energy, told Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay members in mid-May. "This is really overwhelming." ...

Clinton vows to veto House-passed clean water bill

President Clinton has promised to veto a House bill that would roll back wetlands protection, delay the implementation of stormwater-control efforts and relax some water quality standards.

The House approved the bill May 16 on a 240-185 vote - far short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. The legislation was opposed by most lawmakers from the Bay watershed.

Proponents said the bill would reduce the regulatory burden on landowners and reduce the cost of meeting clean water requirements by giving industries and state and local governments more flexibility. Critics charged that the bill would encourage states to reduce water quality protection and open new loopholes for polluters. ...

New Va. report to identify Potomac basin nutrient controls

Virginia officials expect to complete by early July an analysis of nutrient reduction efforts being implemented throughout the state's portion of the Potomac drainage, a step that will clear the way for the completion of a final nutrient control strategy for that river.

The upcoming report will include a compilation of nutrient reduction activities under way in the Potomac basin and the degree to which - if any - they fall short of the nutrient reduction target.

"We won't know until we compile all the information how far we have to go to fill the gap," said Kathleen Lawrence, director of the state Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department. "Depending what that information shows us, the final document wi ll show us how to fill the gap." ...

Assessment to weigh impact of fishing on blue crab stock

Scientists will gather next month to wade through stacks of blue crab numbers - numbers of males, numbers of females, numbers of juveniles, numbers of crabs harvested by various techniques.

For two days, they will crunch numbers in computers, and feed them into models that replicate blue crab life cycles.

It will be the first-ever "stock assessment" done on the Bay's most valuable fishery - and one that is increasingly the focus of concern. The purpose of the assessment is to better understand the condition of the blue crab population and to deter mine the degree to which it is affected by fishing pressure. ...

Legislative package would promote Bay cleanup efforts

A five-bill package to promote Chesapeake Bay restoration activities, including continued operation of the Bay offices of the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as new support for habitat restoration and other Bay-related activities, was to be introduced in the Senate in June.

The bills, introduced by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., would reauthorize the Bay-related activites of the EPA and NOAA - existing legislative authorization has lapsed - as well as provide assistance for emerging areas of importance, such as the dumping of ballast water into the Bay by ocean-going ships. ...

Sea Grant and the Chesapeake Bay

Sea Grant may be familiar to many people through its educational materials, which include newsletters, videos such as "Chesapeake: The Twilight Estuary," and a variety of books and pamphlets used in schools throughout the region. But most of Sea Grant's focus in Maryland and Virginia has been on Bay-related research. Some examples:

  • Analysis of sediment cores by researchers at Johns Hopkins University has determined what the pre-Colonial Bay was like. Results have shown distinct trends in the Bay's biology and incidence of hypoxia (low oxygen conditions in the water) since the beginning of land clearance. This work sets a baseline against which the current state of the Bay and future restoration activities, can be compared.
  • Airborne remote sensing has been used to track phytoplankton blooms in the Bay and compare chlorophyll levels to river inflow and nutrient inputs. Remote sensing gives a much broader picture than is possible with ship-board monitoring, and analyses have helped confirm the forces behind recent environmental trends in the Bay.
  • Sea grasses have been considered an indicator of the Bay's health. With pass-through funds from the EPA, researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science(VIMS)and the University of Maryland's Center for Estuarine and Environmental Studies(CEES)teamed up to develop water quality criteria for promoting the growth of sea grasses. Such criteria provide managers with meaningful "targets" to guide nutrient reduction in the Bay.
  • Researchers from CEES and VIMS are investigating the impact of toxics on the immune response of oysters and, in particular, its resistance to the parasitic disease Dermo. Their work is showing that these and other contaminants suppress the functioning of disease-fighting blood cells.
  • Most organic toxicants that enter the Bay are particle-reactive, adhering to particles in the water column, which then sink to the bottom. But the story does not end there. With funds from NOAA and the EPA, Sea Grant research in both Maryland and Virginia has found that these toxic-laden particles are frequently resuspended into the water column by tidal and wind-generated currents. Also, benthic organisms play an important role in the fate of these toxicants - rapidly burying some toxic-laden particles, bringing others from the depth to the surface; and ingesting some particles, thus introducing toxicants into the food web.
  • Sea Grant-supported work has helped to uncover the life cycle of the Bay's blue crab. Through field and laboratory studies, researchers at Old Dominion University, CEES and the University of Delaware teamed up to discover that blue crab larvae are flushed out of the Bay onto the continental shelf. Subsequent field and modeling work, including research at VIMS, have shown that blue crabs return to the Bay in the megalopa (post-larva) stage, and that variability in recruitment is largely determined by environmental factors. VIMS researchers have also shown that sea grasses are extremely important habitat for young blue crabs.
  • When faced with the closure of several Virginia crab processors by the Food and Drug Administration because of the presence of the bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, the Virginia Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program developed operating plans for the processing plants, which allowed them to remain in operation.
  • Since the late 1970s, when Maryland and Virginia Sea Grant helped organize the first oyster culture conferences that have grown into the annual multi-state Mid-Atlantic Aquaculture Conference, Sea Grant Extension specialists have staged scores of workshops and demonstrations throughout the region and have produced a library of aquaculture educational materials that range from books to fact sheets to a series of aquaculture videos.


Budget, research priorities of Congress cloud Sea Grant future

Sea Grant, a major source of funding for Chesapeake Bay researchers, is struggling for survival as Congress seeks to balance the budget and reprioritize the nation's research agenda.

A bill that would authorize Sea Grant's existence for three more years is in trouble, and the program has been targeted for elimination by taxpayers groups - one of which labeled the 29-year-old program as "pork for porpoises" in a letter to members of Congress.

"There is sort of a general notion out there these days that if there is a federal grant, it is somehow unseemly," said Lee Stevens, Executive Director of the Sea Grant Association. "I think the opposition is from people who just want to eliminate federal spending wherever they can find it without regard to the benefits a program provides." ...

Bay-related agencies hit by budget ax

Spending for federal environment and natural resources programs would be slashed under budget outlines passed by the House and Senate that seek to achieve a balanced federal budget by the year 2002.

Cuts suggested in the budget resolutions could significantly affect many federal agencies participating in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort: The National Biological Service would be eliminated, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be severely cut. ...

Atlantic sturgeon

Below are facts about the Atlantic Sturgeon

  • Atlantic sturgeon range from the Gulf of Mexico north to Labrador.
  • In 1890, nearly 7 million pounds of sturgeon were caught along the East Coast. Since 1920, the catch has never exceeded 300,000 pounds.
  • A small sturgeon fishery still exists in some places along the coast, but the majority of sturgeon taken today are incidental catch in other fisheries.
  • Depending on the caviar yield, a single female sturgeon may be worth $3,000.
  • Males in this area do not reach maturity until they are 11-12 years old. Females reach maturity at about 15 years. To the north, females may not reach maturity until age 20 or even longer. Fish may reach maturity at younger ages to the south.
  • Females lay eggs in flowing water flowing water up to 60 feet deep.
  • Spawning in the Bay takes place in April and May. Spawning is earlier in rivers to the south, and later to the north.
  • Juveniles tend to remain in their natal rivers for up to 5 years before returning to the ocean.
  • The oldest known Atlantic sturgeon was estimated to be 60 years old.
  • The heaviest Atlantic sturgeon on record weighed 811 pounds.
  • The longest Atlantic sturgeon on record was 14 feet long.
  • Female sturgeon are about 7 feet long at maturity, and may weigh anywhere from 100 pounds to several hundred pounds.
  • Sturgeon use ocean, estuarine and riverine habitats at various stages of their lives, though the condition of riverine habitats, where spawning occurs, may be the most crucial.

Sources: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ...

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