Bay Journal

July-August 2003 - Volume 13 - Number 5

Farm study yields benefits in water quality

The box culvert that runs under Route 353 in Maryland’s Wicomico County doesn’t look like much, but the water running through them is not only heading to the Chesapeake, but possibly leading to a cleaner Bay as well.

During the past four years, the water passing through the culverts has carried an average of 25 percent less nitrogen than it did before.

The drop came after farmers in the watershed immediately upstream agreed to dramatically alter their farming practices. A nearby watershed, where typical farming practices were maintained, saw no nitrogen reductions. ...

Back from the Brink

Barely a decade ago, some scientists began to think the unthinkable: American shad, which once had reigned as the Bay’s most valuable species, should be listed as an endangered species.

In 1980, only 139 shad were counted at Conowingo Dam, on the Susquehanna River, once home to the largest spawning grounds on the entire East Coast.

In 1992, biologists looking for spawning shad in the lower James River couldn’t find enough to support a hatchery program. The same was true for most of Maryland’s rivers. ...

Energy bill provisions jeopardize dam reforms that help fish

A little-known provision of the energy bill that is slowly winding its way through Congress would significantly weaken federal laws that require private dam owners to install fish ladders and reform how their dams are operated.

Since the mid-1980s, private dam owners seeking new licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have been forced to remedy centuries of impacts caused by their dams. In particular, amendments to the Federal Power Act forced dam owners to install fish ladders and other structures that help fish move past the man-made obstacles to reach critical spawning grounds. ...

Something’s fishy

While American shad have been the target of major restoration efforts, scientists are mystified by the comeback of its close relative, the hickory shad, which has received little attention.

Although the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has stocked hickory shad in four rivers in recent years—the Patuxent, Choptank, Patapsco and Nanticoke—the slightly smaller relative of the American shad is strongly rebounding in Virginia rivers, the Potomac and the Susquehanna, where no restoration efforts were made. ...

Menu of potential Chesapeake parks serves up different flavors of Bay

The National Park Service is entering the final phase of a study to help determine whether Congress should create a new park or preserve focused on the Chesapeake Bay.

In June, it released a draft report outlining five potential options. They include:

  • A Status Quo Alternative, with no new Park Service role in the Bay Region.
  • An Enhanced Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network that would continue the Park Service role in the network beyond 2008, and add two interpretation and education centers to introduce people to the region.
  • A Chesapeake Bay Estuary National Park, focused largely on the the Bay’s aquatic and shoreline natural resources.
  • A Chesapeake Bay National Reserve, focused on preserving a representative section of the region’s natural and cultural heritage.
  • A Chesapeake Bay Watershed National Ecological & Cultural Preserve, which would focus on a single watershed and how it, and the activities within it, affect the Bay.

After receiving public input, the Park Service will prepare a final report to Congress, which had requested the study. A final decision about whether any park is created rests with Congress and the president. ...

Mathias boat trip in 1973 launched Chesapeake cleanup effort

It was 1973, and environmental consciousness across the nation was growing. The first Earth Day had taken place three years earlier. The EPA was 3 years old, and the Clean Water Act was a year old.

In the midst of that national activity, a first-term U.S. senator from Maryland was increasingly hearing reports about something amiss in his own backyard.

People on and near the Chesapeake had a host of complaints: seafood harvests were down, grass beds were disappearing, raw sewage and industrial wastes were pouring into the water. ...

Creek’s muddy waters may hold clues to War of 1812 naval battle

While British troops were attacking Washington, D.C. on Aug. 24, 1814, a minor skirmish in the War of 1812 was taking place at Bodkin Point near the mouth of the Patapsco River south of Baltimore.

Writing in his journal for that day, a British Royal Marine lieutenant recorded that the HMS Menelaus, captained by Sir Peter Parker, had burned “a fine schooner named the Lion of Baltimore.”

Now archaeologists are pursuing tantalizing clues that the remains of The Lion, believed to be between 85 and 100 feet long, may lie under the muddy waters of Bodkin Creek. Finding remnants of the burned schooner would provide evidence of a previously undocumented event in the military history of the young U.S. nation. ...

Blue crab population near all-time low; watermen to get relief

This year has been tough for crabs, tough for watermen—and even tough for those trying to manage them.

The latest assessment of the Bay’s blue crab stock has again found that the population of the Chesapeake’s most valuable commercial species remains near an all-time low.

Meanwhile, this spring’s cool temperatures sharply reduced crab catches. Things have been so bad in recent years that Maryland and Virginia watermen for the first time became eligible for federal disaster relief. ...

Commission recommends overhaul of nation’s ocean policy

The nation’s oceans face a crisis stemming from pollution, overfishing and rapid coastal development that requires a more active federal role if ocean and coastal ecosystems are to be protected and restored, a three-year study has concluded.

The Pew Oceans Commission report recommended that the nation move away from the “frontier mentality” that had led to excessive exploitation of the oceans and instead make restoration of healthy marine ecosystems a national priority.

“For centuries, we have viewed the oceans as beyond our ability to harm and their bounty beyond our ability to deplete,” said Leon Panetta, chair of the 18-member commission. “The evidence is clear that this is no longer true.” ...

International crew drills deepest sediment samples ever collected from Chesapeake

An international crew of 40 scientists in June gathered the deepest sediment samples ever taken from underneath the Bay.

Researchers on the Marion Dufresne drilled up to 77.5 feet below the bottom of the Bay to collect the samples, which reveal how climate changes affected it over the last 11,000 years. Using the data, scientists said, they hope to predict how future climate changes and the use of surrounding land will affect the Chesapeake.

Crews drilled so deeply, they churned past layers of sediment that formed the earliest bed of the Bay, scientists said. They set a record by reaching layers of the bed of the ancient Susquehanna River—the ancestor of the Chesapeake Bay. The yards-long tubes of sediment, called “cores,” are cut into pieces 1.5 meters long and sliced in half for research. ...

Rockfish surveys continue to find high rates of mycobacteria

The epidemic of potentially lethal mycobacteria infections which have swept through the Chesapeake’s striped bass population shows no sign of abating, according to preliminary results of the first coordinated Baywide survey conducted last fall.

An ongoing Maryland survey also showed continued high rates of infections in striped bass, and a separate study off the North Carolina coast indicated the infections are also in striped bass outside the Chesapeake.

“It’s not going away,” said Chris Ottinger, an immunologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Fish Health Laboratory in West Virginia who coordinated the Baywide survey. “We know that in some of these rivers, the current epizootic has been going on for at least five years. It’s one thing for a disease to be in a river one year and gone the next. But when it’s there year after year after year, that means something else.” ...

Maryland developing plan to introduce Ariakensis oysters to Bay

Maryland officials are developing a plan that could introduce reproducing populations of Asian oysters into the Chesapeake as early as next year to help revive oyster harvests and clean up the Bay.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich in June said his administration would seek approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to deploy fast-growing Crassostrea ariakensis oysters, which studies have shown is resistant to the diseases that devastated the native oyster population.

“The fact is this is an economic and environmental priority,” Ehrlich said. “You’re talking about the health of the Bay and goods produced.” ...

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