Bay Journal

November 2003 - Volume 13 - Number 8

Sturgeon Surgeons

It seemed a primitive setting for a cutting-edge operation: a dank room so dark that someone had to hold a floodlight as the surgeon traced his scalpel along the patient’s belly, looking for a place to cut.

Fortunately, the patient—its pale white belly contrasting sharply with the black stretcher serving as an operating table—was heavily sedated.

“I’m looking for a clean spot where there are no scutes,” said Dr. Frank Chapman, his sleeves rolled up and his hands covered with latex gloves. ...

People want a Chesapeake park — but aren’t sure which one

People overwhelmingly support some kind of National Park devoted to the Chesapeake Bay—but there is no clear consensus on what kind of park it should be.

That’s the message from the more than 3,000 comments submitted to the National Park Service this summer and fall in response to a draft study that spelled out five potential park options.

Respondents overwhelming rejected the “do nothing” option, with 92 percent of the comments saying the park service should play a larger role in conserving and celebrating the Bay through one or more of the other alternatives. ...

Taxes take toll on region’s land use policies, report finds

Local governments often get the brunt of the blame for zoning decisions that lead to suburban sprawl in the Bay watershed, but a new report suggests that at least part of the region’s land use patterns are driven by state tax policies.

A report for the Bay Program by the Environmental Law Institute concludes that state tax policies often cause local governments to compete with one another by chasing after forms of development that increase tax receipts, even if it is inconsistent with good practices. ...

Public-private partnerships deemed key to restoration funding

Restoring large ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay will require innovation, dedication and something else: cash, lots of it.

One reason that restoration efforts suddenly seem so expensive is that resource managers and scientists are trying to restore whole ecological systems rather than simply restoring a few acres of wetland or forest, an acre at a time.

One recent example is coastal Louisiana, where federal and state officials have been spending as much as $40 million annually to restore the state’s rapidly disappearing coastal marshes. They quickly discovered that building marshes artificially by dredging and dumping mud and then planting grasses was no match for the relentless forces of ocean erosion and subsidence. ...

Bay Program asks to create regional invasive species panel

From the zebra mussels that have been planted in the region’s gravel pits and the shellfish-chomping rapa whelk spreading through Virginia’s section of the Bay, to purple loosestrife crowding out native vegetation in wetlands, the mid-Atlantic region boasts more than its share of threats from unwanted species.

In November, the region will ratchet up its efforts to coordinate actions to control such threats, when the Bay Program asks the federal Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force to form a regional aquatic nuisance species panel. ...

Citizens group objects to draft forest goal

The Bay Program’s Citizens Advisory Committee, saying it is “disappointed” in a draft policy calling for a 10,000-mile goal for streamside forest buffers, is asking for a more aggressive restoration objective.

The advisory committee, which includes representatives from business, environmental organizations, agriculture and other stakeholder groups, said a 10,000-mile goal would set a “dangerous precedent” by setting a standard it said was too meager to meet the Bay Program’s goal of cleaning the Chesapeake by 2010. “The 10,000 miles is far below the amount necessary to aid in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort,” the committee said in a letter to the Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee. “This should not be acceptable when we are faced with such challenging attainment goals. The time to do more is now.” ...

Scientists say Isabel’s impacts illustrate effects of sea level rise

Hurricane Isabel caused billions of dollars of damage as its raging tidal surge— measuring 8 feet in places—left a path of destruction and flooding from Virginia Beach to Baltimore.

But Isabel, though a small hurricane, may foreshadow what lies ahead for the Bay and surrounding coastal areas.

Its storm surge left some areas underwater that had never been flooded before—even during the previous record-setting storm, an unnamed 1933 hurricane. Part of the reason, scientists say, is that the Bay is nearly a foot higher than it was seven decades ago. That’s the result of land subsidence around the Bay, as well as worldwide sea level rise. ...

Monitoring reveals drought helped to improve Bay’s water quality

The dry conditions that ruled the region from 1999 through 2002 may seem like a faint memory after this year’s deluge, but recently compiled monitoring data confirm it was a boon for the Bay.

Monitoring showed downward trends in nitrogen, loads of which tend to be closely related to water flow, which translated to improved water quality in both the Bay and its tributaries. Trends in phosphorus were less evident.

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey showed downward trends in nitrogen loads from the Susquehanna, James, Patuxent, Pamunkey and Appomattox rivers during 2002—an improvement from the previous year when downward trends were noted in only three: the Susquehanna, James and Patuxent. Combined, those rivers account for nearly two-thirds of the river flow into the Chesapeake. ...

Isabel’s blow not as bruising to Bay as previous wet weather

Some had feared that Hurricane Isabel would prove to be a knockout blow for the Chesapeake, delivering a punch akin to that of 1972’s Tropical Storm Agnes that launched the Bay into a downward spiral.

But after reviewing the damage, experts say the September hurricane caused relatively little harm to the Bay.

Instead of a major blow, it was more of a final slap to a system that had already suffered far more damage from months of unrelenting rainfall.

“The problems did not materialize,” said Bob Wood, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office who has studied climate impacts on natural resources. ...

CBF demands stricter limits for wastewater treatment plants

In recent months, wastewater dischargers in Virginia have found themselves under extra scrutiny when their discharge permits come up for renewal.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has started challenging permits for failing to include strict limits on nitrogen discharges into Bay tributaries.

So far, it has demanded, and received, public hearings on two permits, charging that the state was failing to set limits that would protect the Bay and local waterways.

Now, the group is asking that Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania all begin setting strict, enforceable nitrogen limits in discharge permits as they come up for renewal. ...

ASMFC seeks comments for strategic plan

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has released the final draft of its Strategic Plan for 2004–2008 for public review and comment. The plan establishes nine major goals and related strategies to guide the panel’s actions over the next five years and be implemented during annual action plans.

While much of the plan is similar to the first ASMFC Strategic Plan (1998–2003), there is added emphasis on improving education, outreach and stakeholder input, as well as supporting the needs of the states. Here are the nine goals proposed by the plan: ...

Aquaculture tests with sterile ariakensis oysters begins in VA

Nearly 800,000 foreign oysters have, albeit temporarily, found a new home in the Chesapeake Bay.

The sterilized Asian oysters were distributed among eight Virginia seafood growers in late September and early October as part of a long-planned test to see if they can be economically reared for the dinner table.

“People were very excited to get these,” said Frances Porter, executive director of the Virginia Seafood Council, which is sponsoring the project. “Suddenly, when you’ve got 100,000 in front of you, it’s a whole lot of oysters.” ...

VIMS scientist urges expanded testing of ‘triploid’ oysters

A Virginia scientist is suggesting that foreign oysters be freed from their bondage, but that they should continue to be deprived of a sex life.

It’s not a twisted animal rights message. Rather, the concept being promoted by Stan Allen, an oyster researcher with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, is something of a middle ground in the debate over the future of the fast-growing foreign oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis, in the Chesapeake Bay.

With various sides polarized over the issue of whether reproducing populations of the oyster should be placed in the Bay, Allen suggests an expanded role for sterile oysters—both for research, and commercial harvest. ...

Feds may rule on introducing foreign oysters

Any plans to place reproducing populations of foreign oysters into the Chesapeake Bay may need to get federal permission before they can go ahead.

An EPA official said at a recent Congressional hearing that an effort to introduce a breeding population of the fast-growing Asian oyster into the Bay, as has been proposed by Maryland and Virginia, would likely need a federal permit to comply with the Clean Water Act.

Meanwhile, Rep.Wayne Gilchrest, R- MD, who called the Oct. 14 hearing on the foreign oyster issue, said he would seek to amend legislation now working its way through Congress to ensure federal approval is required for such introductions. ...

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