Bay Journal

September 2009 - Volume 19 - Number 6

Great Wicomico site of thriving native oyster reef

While the Baywide oyster population hovers near its all-time low, a group of Virginia scientists say they have turned a mostly barren portion of the Great Wicomico River into the most vibrant oyster reef around the Chesapeake.

The team said its 86.5-acre oyster reef project is home to roughly 185 million oysters, the largest single population anywhere around the Bay. Some parts of the reef hold more than 1,000 oysters per square meter-which they say also makes it the densest population in the Bay. ...

Stormwater measure stalls in Congress

Congress has put the brakes on efforts that would require new federally funded highway projects to incorporate more stringent stormwater controls.

Lawmakers from the Bay region were in the forefront of efforts to incorporate the provision into the House version of the Federal Surface Transportation Act, and the governors of all six states in the Bay watershed joined to sign a letter touting the benefits to the Bay of such an action. (See "6 Bay governors unite in drive to put runoff controls in highway bill," July-August, 2008) ...

Senate pressured to pass climate legislation; ocean temps set record

Ocean surface temperatures hit a record high in July, reaching 61 degrees, or 1.06 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Data Center said part of the increase was attributed to an El Nino in the Pacific, but other factors such as the continued melting of the Arctic ice cap, which in July was its third smallest size on record.

In September, Congress may also heat up as pressure builds on the the Senate to pass climate change legislation in the wake of action by the House. ...

ASMFC considers extending cap on menhaden harvest

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will take public comments in September on a proposal to extend the current cap on menhaden fishing in the Bay for an additional five years.

The action was requested by Virginia officials at the commission's August meeting in order to accommodate its legislative process. The Virginia General Assembly, which has responsibility for regulating the menhaden catch, meets from January through March.

Fishery officials said the legislature needs to take up the issue in its 2010 session to keep the cap from expiring. ...

Mussels could be up a creek without migratory eels

After swimming more than 1,000 miles from the Sargasso Sea and up the Chesapeake Bay, eels reaching the Susquehanna River seem undaunted by the Conowingo Dam.

Rather than stop at the foot of the 100-foot dam, they are willing to follow a dribble of water up a long pile of concrete rip-rap.

For the first time in decades, their efforts are being rewarded. Biologists this summer have been collecting the eels, then giving them a ride around the dam.

It's the second year that humans have intervened to help the eels fulfill their migratory impulse. Last year, 20,000 eels were moved upstream; by early August this year, more than 10,000 had made the trip. ...

Summer oxygen levels better than average, less than predicted

Summer oxygen levels in the Bay were better than last year, though not quite as good as scientists had expected, according to monitoring data.

Through early August, the size of the oxygen-starved "dead zone" at the bottom of the Bay averaged about 1 cubic kilometer. That was sharply less than the size of last year's dead zone, which was about 2.5 cubic kilometers, and better than the average of about 1.4 cubic kilometers.

But it was larger than predicted by two separate groups of scientists, one from the University of Michigan and one composed of Bay scientists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay Office. ...

Citizens, officials call for tougher measures to keep Bay cleanup on track

From town halls, to the halls of Congress-and even into those of the White House-a growing chorus is calling for significantly tougher federal efforts to finish the job of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

Exactly how tough a stance federal agencies will take, primarily the EPA, will emerge in coming months.

But state officials and citizens alike are calling for actions that would have been unthinkable in the past. In testimony presented to a congressional committee in August, a Maryland official suggested the EPA should block new construction in states that fail to make adequate progress toward new Bay cleanup goals. ...

MD, VA launch buyback programs to reduce numbers of crab licenses

Normally, watermen purchase licenses from state agencies, but in a new twist, Maryland and Virginia are trying to buy back crab licenses from watermen.

Fisheries agencies in both states, who have been trying to reduce harvest pressure on a blue crab population that is near an all-time low, have launched a multimillion-dollar effort to reduce the number of available licenses.

Although both states have capped the number of crabbing licenses they issue, hundreds of licensed watermen in both states are not actively catching crabs. Officials worry that if those license holders became active, it could offset the conservation efforts they've put in place. ...

Conowingo’s ability to trap sediment, phosphorus nearing capacity

The largest nutrient and sediment control device in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is likely to stop functioning in the next 15 to 20 years under current conditions, which could dramatically increase the amount of pollution to the Upper Bay.

The device is the Conowingo Dam, located 10 miles upstream from the mouth of the Susquehanna.

When the reservoir behind the 100-foot-high dam is filled, the millions of pounds of phosphorus and millions of tons of sediment now being trapped each year will reach the Upper Bay unless action is taken. ...

For a long time, visiting the ‘beach’ meant the Bay

Beach vacations in the mid-Atlantic are a timeless tradition.

Long boardwalks, plied by vendors, musicians and novelty shops, draw tourists of all ages. The smell of food is in the air, and sea gulls coast over clusters of beach umbrellas. Squeals and clanks carry through the air from carousels, roller coasters and kiddie rides. Young people hit the dance floors, and lines form at the slot machines.

Today, you find it at the ocean. Not long ago, you'd find it all on the Chesapeake Bay. ...

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