Bay Journal

September 1999 - Volume 9 - Number 6

Can Bay’s oysters make a comeback?

Most of us think of oysters on the half-shell, in a milky stew or breaded and fried. But oysters are much more. “Oysters are too valuable to the overall ecological balance of the Bay to think of them only as food,” chides Roger Newell, a researcher at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point.

Oysters are filter-feeders that help keep Bay waters clear. In addition, their reefs, which once rose high from the Bay bottom, provided important shelter for young fish, food for older fish and solid structures for numerous other filter-feeders, such as clams and mussels. ...

ASMFC seeks comment on menhaden management document

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has released a “Public Information Document” for Atlantic Menhaden for review and comment. That is the first step in making changes to the Atlantic Menhaden Fishery Management Plan, which guides how many of the fish can be caught.

Menhaden are an important source of food for many other fish, but also support a large fishery based largely in Virginia. Menhaden reproduction has plummeted in recent years, and some fishermen have charged that the industry is catching too many of the fish. ...

Drought headed toward becoming worst in century

The mid-Atlantic drought has resulted in some of the lowest freshwater flows into the Chesapeake Bay on record, and scientists said unless rainfall returns to normal levels soon, this could soon become the most severe drought of the century.

Relief may be unlikely. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction said the La Nina they blame for causing the drought will continue through the winter.

Effects of the drought, which has led to restrictions on water use throughout most of the region and caused tens of millions of dollars in crop losses, have also rippled through the Bay and its tributaries. ...

VA announces program to help restore oyster population

A new program will use public and private money for oyster reef construction to help replenish oyster populations in Virginia waters, according to state Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley Jr.

The Oyster Heritage Program was formed by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and includes state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups and businesses.

“The broad range of participants … is evidence of the powerful consensus of support behind the Oyster Heritage Program,” Woodley said in an Aug. 4 kick-off for the program. “Gov. Gilmore and I are dedicated to the restoration of the oyster population because of their significant contributions to water quality, to the economic health of our seafood industry and to the quality of life in Virginia.” ...

John S. Gottschalk dies, was former ACB president, Fish & Wildlife director

John S. Gottschalk, who retired as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1970 and was a longtime member of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Board of Directors, died of cancer Aug. 13 at his home in Arlington, VA. He was 86.

During the six years he served as USF & WS director, he oversaw the passage of the first federal endangered species acts and witnessed a comeback by the nearly endangered whooping crane. The National Wildlife Refuge System added more than 500,000 acres of habitat during his tenure, and urban wildlife programs were started. DDT was also banned as a pesticide during that time. ...

Griffin fired; Taylor-Rogers to lead MD DNR

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening unexpectedly fired state Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin on July 9, and named Assistant Secretary Sarah J. Taylor-Rogers to replace him.

Glendening gave no public explanation for the firing, although the two were said to have had policy differences. Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said the governor “wanted to energize the department and refocus it on Smart Growth, land conservation and green infrastructure preservation.”

The action surprised environmentalists. Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which named Griffin its “Conservationist of the Year” in 1998, said he was “shocked, saddened and disappointed.” ...

3 states plan massive Delmarva land purchase

More than 76,000 acres of forests and wetlands on the Delmarva Peninsula have been purchased from a timber company and set aside for future generations as part of three-state agreement.

The land being acquired includes 58,000 acres in Maryland, 9,100 acres in Sussex County, DE and nearly 8,800 acres in Virginia. The land, which at nearly 120 square miles is larger than the city of Baltimore, is all owned by the Chesapeake Forest Products Co.

The company’s land holdings in Maryland are being bought for $33 million, with the state contributing half, according to Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The rest is a gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, based in Pittsburgh, PA. ...

Canada geese population rebounding; limited hunting season proposed

After four years of closure, the hunting season for Canada geese — perhaps the waterfowl most closely identified with the Chesapeake Bay — will open slightly this fall as the region’s migratory population continues to recover from historic lows.

An annual aerial survey of nesting grounds in northern Canada counted 77,000 breeding pairs in late spring, the highest number since 1993. The number of pairs has generally been growing since it bottomed out at 29,000 in 1995.

“We haven’t seen a big spike in the breeding population, but the population has definitely grown,” said Bill Harvey, Maryland Department of Natural Resources game program population specialist, who participates in the annual survey. “We’ve had three good years of production.” ...

Advisory group expected to recommend law to protect VA wetlands

A citizens advisory group appointed by Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is expected to call for legislation that would create a new state program to protect, and regulate, nontidal wetlands.

The Wetland Advisory Committee, appointed to recommend how the governor could meet his pledge to increase wetland acreage, has concluded that no gain is likely unless regulatory loopholes that allow widespread wetland drainage are closed.

The committee is expected to send its recommendations to the governor at the end of September, along with a recommendation for a wetland net gain goal. ...

Capping nutrient levels a daunting task amid growing population

Every new person who enters the Bay watershed produces about 8 pounds of nitrogen and nearly 1 pound of phosphorus every year.

Every 1,000 additional chickens produces about 72 pounds of nitrogen and 32 pounds of phosphorus before they make it to the dinner table.

The millions of more people and chickens on the way — not to mention hogs, houses, parking lots and other nutrient sources — could add up to a big nutrient control headache in coming years.

To head that off, the Bay states are supposed to be able to hold the line on all additional nutrients associated with growth in people, animals and development when the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, 2000. ...

New TMDL rules seek proof that cleanups will take place

In an effort to spur the cleanup of more than 300,000 miles of rivers, lakes and estuaries, the EPA has proposed new rules for how states write — and implement — cleanup plans for waterbodies still polluted nearly three decades after passage of the Clean Water Act.

The new rules govern the development of cleanup plans known as “Total Maximum Daily Loads,” or TMDLs, and seek to force states to better rein in sources of pollution that previously went largely uncontrolled, such as runoff from farms and developments. ...

Bay Program must clean Chesapeake by 2010 — or else

The Bay Program is in a race to meet a new goal: Clean the Chesapeake by the end of the next decade. Unlike past goals, the new one has a potentially harsh backup. If the Bay Program doesn’t succeed, the EPA could force far more prescriptive — and potentially costly — nutrient reductions, especially from regulated sources such as wastewater treatment plants, city stormwater systems and animal feedlots.

Those approaches could replace the traditional Bay Program approach to nutrient control which has relied largely on voluntary measures and cost-sharing grants, with modest regulatory controls. ...

Scientists reach consensus on plan to restore oyster populations in Chesapeake Bay

A group of oyster specialists from universities in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina have agreed to the first-ever consensus on the key ingredients needed to restore healthy populations of the filter feeder to the Chesapeake Bay.

“For the first time, we have a technical consensus across state lines,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “This consensus will provide guidance to restore the Chesapeake Bay’s most definitive resource — oysters.” ...

More and more oyster gardeners cropping up to help

You can help oyster restoration endeavors and eat the bivalve, too.

“Oyster gardening” opportunities abound on Chesapeake Bay. Many people have been growing oysters for personal consumption for years and now those gardeners, as well as new gardeners, are being encouraged to grow extra oysters for restoration.

Mark Luckenbach, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, says oyster gardeners can make a difference. Oysters grown and planted by school groups and private gardeners on reefs constructed in the Lynnhaven River increased spat set — the number of young oysters that successfully latch onto solid substrate and begin growing — by 23 times. A similar increase was observed in the western branch of the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, VA after reef restocking there. ...

Building a Better Oyster

Researchers at Rutgers University, University of Maryland, University of Delaware and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science are working to breed a better oyster that is more likely to survive diseases in the Bay’s water.

Cross-breeding native oysters at research institutions throughout the mid-Atlantic region has produced an oyster that is resistant to MSX and more tolerant of Dermo. Dubbed “CROSBreed,” this oyster is currently being produced in hatcheries and will be planted on reefs this fall. ...

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