Bay Journal

November 1997 - Volume 7 - Number 8

Ghosts from the past may still haunt Bay waters

Many scientists have thought for years that the last Atlantic sturgeonnative to the Chesapeake Bay had gone the way of the passenger pigeon.

That hypothesis is now in doubt.

It appears likely that an Atlantic sturgeon - the largest fish native to the Bay - spawned in the Chesapeake basin this year, most likely in the James River.

Fishermen, responding to a $100 reward for live Atlantic sturgeon, have collected about 100 of the fish in the James and neighboring rivers. At least one of the fish was as small as 10 inches - thought to be too small to have migrated into the Bay from other river systems. ...

EPA expands Toxics Release Inventory List

Over the years, the EPA has added and removed several chemicals from its Toxics Release Inventory list. The largest change began with the 1995 reporting year, when 286 chemicals were added to the list, bringing the total to 643.

But more changes are coming.

This year, the EPA announced it would require reports from several industry sectors that had previously been exempt. Those included metal-mining, coal-mining and electrical utilities; certain hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities; chemical and allied produce wholesale distributors; petroleum bulk stations and terminals; and solvent recovery services. About 6,000 additional facilities nationwide will have to begin providing TRI information under the new requirement. These facilities will begin reporting in the 1998 calendar year. ...

Toxics releases decrease 66 percent in Bay states

The Bay states have hit their goal - three years ahead of schedule - of reducing toxics releases within the watershed by 65 percent. A Bay Program analysis of data from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory shows that 100.3 million pounds of toxic chemical releases were reported in 1995, the most recent year for which information is available.

That's a drop of 66 percent from 1988, the baseline year for measuring the Bay Program reduction goal. Nationwide, releases reported on the annual TRI survey fell 46 percent during the same period. ...

Reducing nutrients likely to lessen risk of pfiesteria

A panel of scientific experts that has been reviewing the Bay's pfiesteria problem since this summer has concluded that reducing nutrients - a longtime goal of the Bay states - should reduce the risk of future pfiesteria outbreaks.

While Baywide nutrient concentrations have declined in recent years, data reviewed by the panel showed that nutrient concentrations had increased in the downstream portions of rivers on Maryland's lower Eastern Shore and in Virginia's Rappahannock River - areas where fish lesions were noted this year. ...

Group seeks endangered status for Mattaponi

A watershed group is seeking national recognition of Virginia's Mattaponi River as an "endangered" waterway because of a 6-mile-long, 13-billion-gallon reservoir that has been proposed in the York River Tributary.

The Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers Association recently announced that it would make the nomination to American Rivers, a national conservation group which annually produces a highly publicized list of what it considers to be the 20 most threatened U.S. waterways. The Newport News Waterworks is seeking to build a $120 million reservoir on Cohoke Creek, a Mattaponi tributary, to help meet the needs of the Williamsburg-Hampton-Newport News area through 2040. "We find this proposal both implausible and completely unnecessary," said Billy Mills, executive director of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers Association, one of several groups fighting the reservoir plan. "The multiple serious environmental impacts ... pose a grave danger to all of the dependent living resources of the Mattaponi River system and ecology." ...

Report says one-third of nation’s marine species are overfished

A third of the nation's marine fish species are "overfished" or approaching an overfished condition, according to a new report from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The report said 96 marine fish species are at or are approaching an overfished condition, while another 183 species have not been overfished.

It examined the condition of fish species in federal waters, which extend from three to 200 miles off shore.

The report was required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act which governs fisheries in federal waters. The bill, approved by Congress last year, requires NMFS to annually report on the status of fisheries in federal waters. ...

Conservation program to offer $200 million to MD farmers

A new program will use more than $200 million to entice Maryland farmers to adopt conservation practices, such as streamside buffers and wetland restoration, that will help protect the Chesapeake Bay. The first-of-its-kind partnership between the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay farmers to set aside up to 100,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land. According to state figures, that's enough to place a buffer between every acre of farmland and every permanent stream - as well as many seasonal streams - that feeds the Bay. ...

Bill seeks deep cuts in utilities’ NOx, sulfur dioxide emissions

Air pollutants that contribute to acid rain in eastern mountains and water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay would have to be dramatically reduced under legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate. The bill, introduced by Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and Alfonse D'Amato, (R-NY), would require that utility sulfur dioxide emissions be reduced 50 percent below what is now required, and that nitrogen oxide emissions from utilities be reduced 70 percent from 1990 levels. The nitrogen oxide cuts would go further than those recently proposed by the EPA. ...

EPA sets NOx reductions for 22 states to fight smog

The EPA has targeted 22 states - including all of those in the Chesapeake "airshed" - for new air pollution controls as part of an effort to reduce smog-causing chemicals that travel across state boundaries and to meet new air quality standards.

The action, expected for months, requires nitrogen oxide emission reductions from most of the eastern half of the country from Massachusetts to Missouri and as far south as Georgia.

The states must develop plans within two years outlining how they will achieve the specific reductions set by the EPA. The cuts must be implemented by 2002 with air quality improvement taking place by 2005. ...

MD striped bass young-of-year index dips slightly

Maryland's juvenile striped bass index this year was 8.0, slightly below the long-term average of 10.7, but far higher than the low indexes of the 1980s that caused a closure of striped bash fishing in the Bay.

Fluctuations in the index are typical, in large part because weather plays an important role in setting up spawning conditions. Officials said the cold and dry spring was probably responsible for decreased spawning. But overall, they say the population is in good shape, with record spawns being reported in two of the past five years. ...

Scientists investigate cause of sores on striped bass

Striped bass with strange, ugly sores are being spotted around the Chesapeake Bay, and scientists are planning to step up research in coming months to learn what is ailing the fish. While sores have been reported on adult striped bass for several years, biologists say more fish appear to be affected this year. The sores tend to be found on larger fish - usually 16 inches or larger in size - and the affected fish appear to have little body fat. "The fish are in trouble," said Jim Price, a former charter boat captain who has caught dozens of fish with sores in the Choptank River and nearby areas of the Chesapeake Bay. "Other fisherman that I've talked to have caught them up and down the whole Bay. It's not an isolated area. It's a Baywide problem." ...

Algae crops up in nutrient removal system

In an effort keep nutrients from reaching the Chesapeake Bay where they may contribute to algae blooms, the Fruitland Waste-water Treatment Plant has gotten into the farming business. Its crop is algae. The plant, located just outside Salisbury, MD, pipes a portion of its wastewater through an algae "scrubber" that soaks up most of the nutrients in the effluent. The algae is then "harvested" and composted. "Millions of years ago, the Earth's biosphere had learned that the best way to clean up water is to use algae," said Walter Adey, director of the Smithsonian Institution's Marine Systems Laboratory, who developed the system. "All we are doing is going back to that." ...

Controlling manure key to resolving phosphorus woes

As manure piled up in the Netherlands in recent years, farmers and the government searched for ways to get rid of the stuff before it ruined the tiny nation's water quality.

One of their solutions: Ship it here.

The Dutch government helps subsidize a program to turn chicken waste into pellets that are packaged and exported as high-grade lawn and golf course fertilizers.

"They're trying to market this stuff all over the world just to get rid of it, and hoping to make some money in the process," said David Brubaker, executive vice president of Penn Ag Industries, an agribusiness trade association. "It's starting to come into the United States. How big it's going to get, I don't really know." But he and others suggest that areas with intensive livestock industry - such as parts of the Chesapeake watershed - may soon be searching for innovative animal waste disposal solutions as well. ...

Atlantic sturgeon closer to protected status

The Atlantic sturgeon is a step closer to getting federal listing as a threatened or endangered species.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced Oct. 2 that they were initiating a "status review" to determine whether the sturgeon should receive protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The action stems from a petition filed with the agencies earlier this year by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, a Colorado-based environmental group, which called on the agencies to consider listing the species because it was "seriously imperiled." ...

Sturgeon let go in ‘96 fared well in Bay

Atlantic sturgeon stocked in the Nanticoke River last year appear to have survived well - even thrived, judging by their growth - in the Bay, indicating that the Chesapeake offers good habitat for fish released as part of any future recovery effort.

More than 3,000 sturgeon raised at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's hatchery in Lamar, PA, were released into the river by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in July 1996.

All the fish were marked with tags, and the USF&WS, along with the states of Maryland and Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have been paying rewards for any live hatchery sturgeon. ...

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