Bay Journal

November 2010 - Volume 20 - Number 8

New USGS method improves ability to track nutrients flowing into Bay

Scientists have developed a new technique to answer a fundamental, yet maddeningly complex question: Is the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus reaching the Chesapeake Bay trending up or down?

About 30 billion gallons of water a day flow into the Chesapeake from its major tributaries. The amount of nitrogen and phosphorus along for the ride varies, based on a host of factors such as the volume of river flow, the season or changes on the land.

Even short-term events make big differences. Melting snowpacks can release a surge of nitrogen, while pounding thunderstorms effectively scour phosphorus from land surfaces and stream banks. ...

Cultivating a new future for Chesapeake’s oyster industry

If you want to get into the oyster business, you need nerves of steel.


Over the last decade, close to a dozen oyster farms have cropped up in Maryland and Virginia. Everything that could go wrong for them has gone wrong.


One farmer's oysters were stolen when he put them in an unmarked bed. Another tells of losing much of his early crop to cownose rays. Another encountered the parasite Dermo, which wiped out thousands of dollars of profits in a single season. Still others talked of long waits to acquire the permits to build their operations, or battles with neighbors who were not keen to see oyster floats interrupting their view. ...


Send us a piece of your mind & you may get a masterpiece about the Chesapeake Bay

Dear Reader,

We invite you to take a few minutes to respond to our second reader survey. Your responses will help us to gauge who our audience is, and what features and coverage best meet your needs. The more people who respond, the more valuable the information will be.

We will randomly select three responders to receive a copy of "The Nanticoke: Portrait of a Chesapeake River," by David W. Harp and Tom Horton. The book, which will be autographed by both men, combines Harp's photography with Horton's writing. It is a portrait of the natural beauty and rich history of the Nanticoke, one of the Bay's least known and most pristine rivers. ...

USDA report says farms aren’t doing enough to protect water quality

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that farmers aren't doing nearly enough to prevent pollution from cropland entering the Chesapeake Bay.

The draft report, "Assessment of the Effects of Conservation Cropland in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed," was put together by the USDA's Conservation Effects Assessment Project. It was released at a time when farm advocacy organizations from Virginia to New York have said their members are doing enough to control pollution from fertilizers, and resisting efforts that could force more, and faster, action. ...

Passions run high at TMDL hearings

At public meetings and in written comments, citizens and organizations from across the watershed - and across the nation - are staking out positions regarding the draft Bay cleanup plan released by the EPA Sept. 24.

Many environmentalists have praised the plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, saying its tougher approach to curbing Bay pollution is long overdue. But the plan is drawing fire from farm organizations, homebuilders and local governments who believe the planned actions will be too burdensome and costly. ...

Tax on Marcellus shale gas extraction fails to pass in PA legislature

A proposed tax on the natural gas industry is dead in Pennsylvania and may not be revived anytime soon.

Gov. Ed Rendell blamed Republicans in both chambers of the Pennsylvania Legislature for failing to compromise on a fee for the gas extracted by the myriad companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation rich in natural gas that spreads across Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York.

"With little time left to enact the severance tax, the Senate and House Republicans' adamant refusal to advance a meaningful counterproposal speaks volumes about their intentions," he said. "They clearly desire to put costs of natural gas drilling on the backs of Pennsylvania taxpayers, rather than on the large multinational oil and gas corporations who stand to reap enormous wealth from our state's resources." ...

Group aims to help farms achieve nutrient goals in doable increments

Kevin Craum had just climbed down from the silo and, with an eye toward the sky, wondered if the October afternoon was going to bring yet more rain.

"We're still hoping to get a little more seeding done," he said. Seeding, as in planting a nutrient-absorbing cover crop on one of his farm's recently harvested fields.

It's one of the many conservation practices he and his brother, Steve, use on their 950 acres of rolling Shenandoah Valley farmland. Their livestock is mostly fenced out of the streams on their pastures. They practice no-till agriculture to minimize erosion on their cropland. ...

Listing could be boon for sturgeon, bane for those who study them

Atlantic sturgeon have no shortage of adjectives that suit them. Ancient, as in a fish species that has been around so long it swam with dinosaurs. Giant, as in the largest fish native to the Chesapeake Bay - it can grow to 14 feet and weigh 800 pounds. Long-lived, as it can survive up to 60 years.

And potentially one more: federally endangered.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in October proposed listing most Atlantic sturgeon populations along the East Coast as endangered species, including those native to the Chesapeake, because they could become extinct in the foreseeable future. ...

2nd eelgrass dieback in 6 years raises concern for plant’s future

This summer's scorching temperatures appear to have baked eelgrass beds in the lower Bay, causing the second dieback in six years for this important underwater grass species.

Bob Orth, a seagrass expert with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said several places he and his VIMS colleagues visited this fall had either completely lost their eelgrass or had very reduced densities compared with what would have been seen in a normal fall.

He has received several reports of an eelgrass dieback from others. But, he cautioned, it appears the dieback may not be as severe as what happened in 2005. A few plants still remained in many places this fall, whereas they were totally absent in many beds in 2005. ...

Volunteers play a big role in search for tiny phytoplankton

Life and death in the Chesapeake Bay have something in common.

Both can be traced to the microscopic realm of phytoplankton where tiny, plant-like organisms float through the water in an artful array of spheres, rods, coils and the occasional blob - all invisible to the naked eye.

For fish, these geometric specks are an aquatic buffet. They support the Bay's entire food chain. But when conditions are right, phytoplankton grow too quickly. They transform into deadly blooms that consume oxygen and kill fish by the thousands. ...

The Inventor: Cages grow oysters, orders from customers

Sheets of galvanized black wire sit in neat piles in Doug McMinn's front yard on Virginia's Middle Peninsula. Nearby, in a covered workshop, two men measure, cut and construct flat, rectangular cages. They are working fast - a new order has just come in for 40 cages.

Seven years ago, when he left his job as director of marine science at Christchurch School, a college preparatory school in Christchurch, VA, to try oyster farming, McMinn never thought he'd be in the oyster equipment business. At first, McMinn's company, the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Co., got cages from Massachusetts and Maine, where aquaculture has thrived for decades. But Virginia required the cages to be 12 inches off the bottom, and the New England cages weren't built to those specifications. ...

The Marketers: Cousins unite area growers to create a Bay ‘brand’ that’s hot across U.S.

In 2002, Richmond resident Travis Croxton had a great job at the Federal Reserve Bank. His cousin, Ryan Croxton, was working as a freelance writer. Neither had a notion of becoming an oyster farmer until their fathers approached them with a proposal: The 110-year-old lease on their grandfather's vast Middle Peninsula oyster grounds was about to expire. Would the boys be interested in doing something with it?

"It was the last thing on our mind until they brought it to our attention that we might lose a bit of history," Travis Croxton recalled. "It was just going to be a hobby." ...

The Legacies: Shucking houses join forces to create a sustainable local oyster harvest

The Chesapeake's shores used to be thick with oyster-shucking houses. They employed hundreds of people, and had a culture all of their own. Men - and it was mostly men - would sit around a table and pry the salty bivalves out of thick shells, telling stories and singing until their shift ended.

After diseases all but destroyed the wild harvest in the 1980s, most of the shucking houses closed. Those that remained had to rely on product from the Gulf of Mexico, which supplied most of the oysters in the United States until recently. ...

The Odd Couple: Financier bonds with former teacher after stopping to talk shop over oysters

If it weren't for the oysters, they probably wouldn't have gotten together.

David Chamberlain was a retired shop teacher from New York who spent years living on and tinkering with a sailboat in the Hudson River. One day, he saw mussels growing under his dock and decided he might like to grow shellfish, too. New York wasn't keen on the idea, but when he called Virginia, Chamberlain recalled, "they said, 'come on down.'" He soon settled in Greenbackville, a town whose name was synonymous with oyster-industry fortunes from the days when the railroad hauled Chincoteague oysters to Baltimore and Philadelphia. ...

The Fighter: Success required sweet-talking the neighbors, market

After a sharp right turn just outside of Cambridge, MD, a narrow road winds down a dirt path into what appears to be an estate worthy of the DuPonts. It continues on to a one-time chicken farm hard by the banks of the Choptank River.

This is Castle Haven, home of Marinetics, and birthplace of the Choptank Sweet oyster. Kevin McClarren, the company's manager, appreciates the natural beauty. His previous job was growing finfish in a Massachusetts industrial park. And before that, he was a laborer for a brick-laying company, working his way through college and out of a sometimes-rough Northeast Philly neighborhood where, by his own admission, he got into a lot of fistfights. ...

The Retiree: Persistence pays off after permit process, early problems

Ernie Nichols always wanted to be Uncle Ernie, although not necessarily the way he is now.

Raising his family in Ellicott City and working in the spacecraft industry in Washington, D.C., Nichols craved long weekends on the Shore, catching crabs.

"When I was a kid, at different times, a neighbor might have a sister who had a place. Very rarely would it be the same place. But we always had some place to chicken-neck."

Nichols decided that, when he was ready, he would build that place, so that it would always be the same place. He would be Uncle Ernie to his children's friends and his neighbors. In 1999, he bought land along the Big Annemessex River outside of Crisfield, MD, and built his dream house. Shortly thereafter, he heard about a program to grow oysters for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. ...

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