Bay Journal

April 2002 - Volume 12 - Number 2

Striped bass illness baffles Bay scientists

A handful of scientists around the Bay are trying to solve a baffling ecological mystery: They want to know why as many as half of the Chesapeake’s striped bass are infected with a disease rarely seen in the wild.

Before showing up in the Chesapeake in recent years, the disease — mycobacteriosis — had never before been reported in wild fish on the East Coast, according to researchers. Further, scientists in both Maryland and Virginia believe they have discovered new varieties of the disease. ...

Warner taps director of CBF’s VA office to head DCR

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner recently chose Joseph Maroon, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia Office, to serve as head of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Maroon, who had been in charge of the group’s Virginia office for 161/2 years, will head an agency that has about 400 employees and an annual budget of about $50 million.

The department oversees Virginia’s state parks and natural areas and leads state efforts to control runoff from farmland and development. ...

Gateways Adds Two Sites

The National Park Service’s Bay Gateways Network recently announced the addition of two new sites, bringing the number of parks, refuges, historic ports, museums and trails participating in the network to 108.

The new sites include:

Nassawango Creek Preserve and Furnace Town in Worcester County, MD. Managed by The Nature Conservancy, the preserve protects 3,900 acres along one of the most pristine Eastern Shore waterways, and contains 12 species of warblers, bald cypress swamps and other natural communities. The adjacent Furnace Town is a living history museum telling the story of a 19th century iron-making village dependent on the creek, Pocomoke River and Chesapeake Bay for transporting its projects. The two sites have a joint visitor center. ...

NOAA accepting grant applications for education programs

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office’s Bay Watershed Education and Training Program (B-WET) has announced the availability of $850,000 in funds to implement environmental education projects in two priority areas: a meaningful Chesapeake Bay or stream outdoor experience; and professional development in the area of environmental education for teachers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Funds are available to K-12 public and independent schools and school systems, institutions of higher education, community-based organizations, nonprofits, state or local government agencies, interstate agencies, and Indian tribal governments. ...

Number of active bald eagle nests in Bay region up 16% in 2001

Bald eagle populations have continued to increase throughout the Chesapeake watershed according to 2001 bald eagle population counts released by the Bay Program.

Results from the annual Baywide survey show increased numbers residing throughout the region, with 618 active nests producing 908 eaglets — a 16 percent increase from the previous year’s 533 active nests and 813 young eagles.

Thriving in some of the most productive nesting grounds in the nation, Bay watershed eagle populations continue to climb to the highest levels since Baywide recordkeeping began in 1977. ...

Bay Program gives headwater states funds to help reduce runoff

With headwater states pledging to help hold the line on nutrient and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake, the Bay Program for the first time plans to dig into its pockets to help foot the bill.

It has agreed to give New York, Delaware and West Virginia $250,000 each over the next two years to help pay for actions that will reduce nutrient and sediment runoff.

“These are the first direct grants to the states to do something with,” said Peter Marx, associate director for communications with the EPA’s Bay Program Office. ...

Blue Crab Regulations at a Glance

Below is an overview of Blue Crab Regulations


  • Increase from 5 inches to 5.25 inches the minimum size for male crabs in the recreational and commercial fisheries beginning Aug. 1. The importation of 5-inch crabs from other states will be allowed.
  • Establish a minimum size of 3.5 inches for peeler crabs and 4 inches for soft crabs. Each is a half-inch increase in minimum size.
  • Ban the possession of sponge crabs in Maryland.
  • Reduce the number of allowed undersize peelers per bushel from 30 to 10 per bushel, and the number of undersized hard crabs from 10 to five per bushel.
  • Maintain the eight-hour workday imposed in 2001 for crab pots and bank-traps, while adding two hours for trotliners and scrapers.

Potomac River ...

Maryland, Virginia speed up reductions on blue crab harvests

Faced with continued worries about the health of the Bay’s most valuable fishery, Maryland and Virginia have opted to accelerate curbs on blue crab harvests.

The two states had agreed late in 2000 to phase in a 15 percent reduction in harvest pressure over a three- year period, and both last year implemented the first 5 percent cut toward that goal.

But rather than continue on that pace, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources approved new regulations in March that will put the full 15 percent reduction into force this year. ...

Academy gets funding to launch study of ariakensis oyster

A panel of national experts will soon begin reviewing scientific, social and economic issues related to the potential use of nonnative oysters in the Chesapeake now that state and federal agencies have raised money for the study.

Details of the study are still in the final stages, but a National Academy of Sciences panel is expected to begin working June 1 and provide a report by May 31, 2003 that will summarize the risks and benefits of using the Crassostrea ariakensis oysters from Southeast Asia in the Chesapeake. ...

Hatchery crab release planned to try to boost dwindling wild population

Scientists in Virginia and Maryland are planning an experimental release of 40,000 hatchery-raised crabs to boost the Chesapeake’s dwindling crab population.

The crabs will be placed in selected tributaries this summer to see if rivers and creeks that don’t seem to have many crabs will be able to support them. If the crabs thrive, the experiment could be the first step toward supplementing the Bay’s dwindling crab population through captive breeding.

“We’re just starting to explore a new avenue,” said Yonathan Zohar, director of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute’s Baltimore lab. “I can’t say whether this is going to be commercially successful or not, but I think this is a tool we cannot afford to ignore.” ...

Congress boosts funding for open spaces

Just as Chesapeake Bay land trusts are trying to meet an ambitious new goal for open space preservation, Congress has significantly boosted federal funds to buy land and purchase development rights from farmers.

Congress has already provided $1.32 billion for federal and state agencies to buy land from willing sellers during the current fiscal year. And, appropriators in Washington are expected to allocate $1.44 billion for the fiscal year that starts in October.

What’s more, Congress is poised to earmark as much as $350 million annually for the purchase of “development rights” from farmers. Taken together, the funds would more than double from mid-1990s levels the federal contributions to local efforts to protect open space from development. ...

Land trusts pledge to step up efforts in Chesapeake watershed

The Bay Program’s goal of preserving one-fifth of the watershed as permanently protected open space is getting a boost from a coalition of land trusts throughout the region.

The nonprofit organizations have pledged to preserve 28.5 percent of the 1.1 million additional acres the region needs to protect to reach the goal by 2010.

That means the land trusts — like the states — would have to dramatically step up their rate of land preservation, either through outright acquisition or through the purchase of easements, to meet the goal. ...

March flows to Bay do little to allay concerns about drought

Concerns about drought impacts on the Bay and its resources continued to rise in March as freshwater flows seemed — in a relative sense — to barely trickle into the estuary.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, total flows into the Chesapeake averaged 34.2 billion gallons per day in February, only half the average for the month.

February flows set record lows for the James and the Potomac rivers,although the Susquehanna rebounded somewhat from January lows.

Last year, USGS figures showed that flows into the Bay were the lowest since 1941. Flows during the first two months of this year were below those of January and February 2001, according to USGS. ...

Rebecca Hanmer named director of Chesapeake Bay Program

Donald S. Welsh, regional administrator of the EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region, announced that Rebecca Hanmer has been selected as the new director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program.

“Rebecca brings an unparalleled record of experience to the important job of protecting the nation’s largest estuary,” Welsh said. “She has been an important leader in the development of many federal water protection programs, and I am confident that she will expand our partnership efforts that will lead to real and measurable environmental benefits in the Bay and its entire watershed.” ...

Proposed Designated Uses & Criteria

State water quality standards consist of numeric criteria that measure a critical parameter and a designated use that applies that criteria. The Bay Program is developing a set of criteria and designated uses to apply in different parts of the Bay and its tidal tributaries.

Designated Uses:

Migratory Spawning & Nursery: designed to protect egg, larval and early juvenile states of shad, striped bass and other anadromous and semi-anadromous fish species. The areas extend from the upper extent of tidal waters to the lower reach of existing spawning and nursery habitats, and from the water surface to the bottom or to the pycnocline where it exists. ...

Bay Program to consider economic costs when setting cleanup goals

With recent estimates placing the Bay cleanup cost in the billions of dollars, some are asking a fundamental question: Just how clean of a Chesapeake can the region actually attain — and afford?

To answer that, the Bay Program has started an economic analysis to determine what the overall price tag would be for different cleanup scenarios — and who would foot the bill. Ultimately, officials want to know how much it will cost to achieve different levels of nutrient and sediment reductions, both by state and by river basin. They also want to know whether different levels of expenditures would result in dramatic changes in Bay water quality. ...

Fungal lesions linked to fish kills both with, without Pfiesteria

The deep lesions found on many fish killed during Pfiesteria outbreaks in the Bay in 1997 contained fungal infections which, according to a recently published paper, can originate independent of the potentially toxic algae.

A number of Virginia and Maryland scientists have maintained that the deep wounds found on dead menhaden during the outbreaks, often referred to as “Pfiesteria-like lesions,” had originated days or weeks before the fish kills took place.

Now, a paper in the Journal of Aquatic Fish Health by Yasunari Kiryu and colleagues at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Fish Health Laboratory in Leetown, WV, reports that the fungus could induce wounds on laboratory fish totally absent of Pfiesteria or other agents. ...

Mycobacteriosis poses no major threat to humans if treated in time

Although scientists believe mycobacterium infections have become widespread in the Bay’s striped bass population, state health officials say they have no evidence of a noticeable increase among humans coming into contact with the Bay or its fish.

Generally, waterborne mycobacteria do not cause serious problems in humans. If left untreated, though, infections picked up from the water — usually appearing as lumps, rashes or lesions — can become more difficult to treat, and may take years to get rid of. People with compromised immune systems are also at a higher degree of risk. ...

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