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May 2011

Government Tracking Devices on the Boats of Watermen? Vote Yes or No.

Workboat Should the Maryland Department of Natural Resources install electronic tracking devices on the boats of watermen to deter the rampant problem of the theft of oysters from sanctuaries? 

It may sound Big Brother-ish, but in light of the Bay’s severely depleted oyster populations and the well documented problem of poaching from oyster sanctuaries, the idea is gaining some supporters.  The Baltimore Sun and (Salisbury, Maryland) Daily Times recently endorsed the idea of GPS tracking devices aboard commercial oystering boats. Even Maryland Watermen’s Association President Larry Simns has made favorable comments about the tracking device concept, telling the Capital News Service “honest watermen want to do whatever it takes.” 

Oyster The debate over boat surveillance -– as an alternative to an outright moratorium on oyster harvesting to save the dwindling species -- has intensified since a Capital News Service report last week. That report concluded that between a third and 80 percent of the sites where oysters have been planted in sanctuaries in the Bay have been hit by illegal harvest of oysters.

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New Report: Drilling Contaminates Drinking Wells with Methane

Drillingsite Gas drilling contaminates drinking water wells, after all, a new study suggests -- but with methane, not hydrofracking chemicals.

Methane concentrations in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling sites in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania and New York are 17 times higher, on average, than concentrations of this gas in drinking water wells in areas without any drilling, a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes.

“At least some of the homeowners who claim that their wells were contaminated by shale-gas extraction appear to be right," said one of the authors, Robert B. Jackson of Duke University

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Here They Go Again: Drill, Baby, Drill

Oilspill Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to speed up leasing of federally owned ocean bottom off the coast of Virginia for oil and natural gas drilling.  Leasing had been halted by the Obama administration in the wake of last year’s disastrous Gulf oil leak, whose crippling effects on the environment and the economy are still being felt across the Gulf region.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell actively supports the House bill, arguing in press releases and newspaper columns that he’d like Virginia to be the “energy capital of the East Coast” and that Virginia’s offshore oil and natural gas must be a part of the mix of resources to lower gasoline prices, provide jobs, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Not surprisingly, the oil, gas, service station, and other fossil fuel industry leaders are applauding the governor's "drill, baby, drill" stance.

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Blue Cats Swamp Bay

DNR image of blue catfish Forty years ago, there were no blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  But today, the monsters -– which can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh 100 pounds, and are native to the Mississippi River basin –- are so numerous in the Bay region that they make up 75 percent of the fish biomass in some rivers. To learn how they got here, read the fascinating article by Karl Blankenship in the Bay Journal.

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Name the Critter Contest

Wiggly "Nobody's home! Go away! Leave the package on the porch." The first reader to correctly identify what species of critter lives here will win a free Chesapeake Bay Foundation T-Shirt. To compete, enter your guesses as comments below.

UPDATE: This is the humble abode of the lugworm (Arenicola cristata), or sand worm, and the first reader to guess correctly was Scott Jennings, who wins the prize. Lugworms are bristly hermaphrodites, often used by fishermen as bait, that grow up to a foot long. The creatures dig U-shaped borrows in the sand, and leave the telltale sign of a pile of coiled castings (excrement) next to their front doors (as seen at bottom right in the photo). 

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To Reverse Decline in Striped Bass, States Consider 40 Percent Reduction in Allowable Catch

Billgoldsboroughwithstripedbass Recreational catches of striped bass –- the iconic sport fish prized by anglers in the Chesapeake Bay and up and down the East Coast -- have plummeted by two thirds over the last five years, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a regional fisheries management board.

To protect this important species, the commission recently voted to consider a reduction in the allowable catch of striped bass by up to 40 percent next year.

Tom O’Connell, Fisheries Director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who serves on the commission, said that adding some modest new limits on catching striped bass would be wise to prevent a crash in populations like the one that happened in the early 1980s.  Stripers rebounded by the mid 1990s, but only because of a moratorium on fishing for striped bass in Maryland from 1985 to 1989, and strict catch limits or bans in a dozen other states.

“The last thing we want to do is get back into a situation where we are faced with a moratorium. Nobody wants to do that,” O’Connell said.  “Some modest adjustments today would help avoid future significant actions.”

In other words, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of sustainable fishing.

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MD Attorney General Prepares Legal Action Against PA Drilling Company

Gansler Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler has notified gas drilling company Chesapeake Energy of the state’s intent to sue the company for an April 19 spill of thousands of gallons hydraulic fracturing fluids into Pennsylvania's Towanda Creek, a tributary to the Susquehanna River, which supplies 45 percent of the fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay.

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U.S. House to Vote on Overturning Ban on Oil Drilling Off Chesapeake Bay

Offshoredrilling The U.S. House this week could vote on a bill to overturn President Obama’s moratorium on offshore drilling along the East Coast, off the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and elsewhere in U.S. waters.  "Under this bill, neither this administration nor any future one could ever decide to limit drilling off the coast of New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, Southern California or Alaska because of economic or environmental concerns," the NRDC's David Goldston writes.

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