The First Peeler Run

378John Werry
Photo by John Werry. 

"I look for them when the first strawberries come off," said Capt. Grant Corbin, one of Deal Island's most skillful crabbers (you'll find two chapters about crabbing with him in William W. Warner's classic book, Beautiful Swimmers). Grant was talking about the "peeler run," when the Chesapeake's crabs slough (shed) for the first time each year, as water temperatures reach the mid-60s (Fahrenheit). 

Capt. Lonnie Moore, CBF's Fleet Senior Manager, says that on Tangier Island, he looks for the locust trees to bloom. On the Severn River around Annapolis, Lonnie's locust tree cue is just as accurate. The locust blooms and their sweet aroma announce that beach-combing will turn up pale, limp crab shells that are hinged in the front and empty when examined. Somehow, the combination of air, water, and soil temperatures produce these natural cues to the Chesapeake's seasons.

"We don't get much sleep the first month," Grant Corbin notes. As his peeler pots fill with "rank" (about-to-shed) crabs, both he and his wife, Ellen, stay busy tending them 24/7 in their "floats" (shedding tanks). Ditto for other soft crabbers, from Capt. Bob Jobes in Havre de Grace at the head of the Bay to Grant's Deal Island neighbor, Roy Ford, and Tangier Island's Mayor, James ("Ooker") Eskridge.

Sloughing is a stressful process for blue crabs, which must survive the process some 21 to 23 times during their lives. The strenuous activity drives up their need for oxygen about six times. In the first peeler run's cooler temperatures, there is usually plenty of dissolved oxygen in the water. As summertime temperatures climb into the mid-'80s, however, sloughing mortality can go as high as 40 percent in waterways where nitrogen pollution drives algae blooms that cause lethal crashes in oxygen levels.

Two more problems for sloughing crabs are habitat loss and predation. Historically throughout the Chesapeake, the best protection for sloughing crabs has been vast meadows of underwater grasses. In the past 40 years, though, pollution has caused a brutal decline in those vital shallow water habitats. CBF's 2012 State of the Bay Report graded underwater grass beds at 20 out of 100, a D- and a drop from 22 in the 2010 report.

258
Speckled Trout. Photo courtesy Capt. Ed Lawrence.
As to predation, "A soft crab doesn't have a friend in the world," laughs Grant Corbin. "We're not the only ones who want to eat him." In fact, predator fish like rock and speckled trout actually key on the first peeler run to move into shallow waters to feed. The run cues light tackle fishing captains like Kevin Josenhans in Tangier Sound and Chris Newsome and Ed Lawrence in Mobjack Bay to move into those rich areas to delight their clients with beautiful catches (which they often release with care).

Between soft crab sandwiches and memorable days on the water, there is much to celebrate in the first peeler run. If we want to keep these runs strong, through, we're going to have to manage our harvests carefully and continue the struggle to restore their underwater grass habitats and the dissolved oxygen they need to keep growing. As always, following the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is the key to a healthy Chesapeake.

 

John Page Williams
CBF's Senior Naturalist


Learn more about Grant and Ellen Corbin's soft crab operation here or make plans to go crabbing with Capt. Grant or other skillful watermen and -women!

To fish for rock and specks in shallow, crab-sloughing territory, visit Capt. Kevin Josenhans' website, Capt. Ed Lawrence's website, or Capt. Chris Newsome's website.


Larry Simns: The Bay Has Lost a Leader

 

LarrySimmsOMalley
President of Maryland Watermen's Association Larry Simns (left) with MD Governor O'Malley (right) at a press conference last year. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff.
We have known for months this day was coming, but it was still a shock when I heard that Larry Simns had left us. Maryland's watermen lost their spiritual leader. The Chesapeake Bay lost a piece of its spirit. 

I often said that Larry had the hardest job of any of us that worked on Bay fisheries.  Maryland watermen are as diverse as the state: Eastern Shore/western shore, upper Bay/lower Bay, fishermen/crabbers/oystermen/clammers. But somehow Larry was able to unite those voices around their common heritage of working the water. Just look south to Virginia where there are a dozen different watermen's associations to appreciate how hard that is. This unity of purpose aimed at preserving that heritage may be Larry's biggest legacy, and if the Maryland Watermen's Association is able to maintain it, that will be a fitting memorial to Larry.

Larry and I often disagreed. The MWA and the Bay Foundation often were at odds. We took our "turn in the barrel," as Larry called them, in his Watermen's Gazette editorials many times. Usually this was a result of disagreeing on short term issues, but in truth we shared the same long-term vision of a healthy Bay that supported vibrant fisheries. But even when our disagreements were strong, or even emotional, Larry could always find a way to put those things aside when we needed to work together on common interests like protecting the Bay. He was able to "agree to disagree" on some things and still work together on others better than anyone I know, and that trait served Maryland's watermen and Chesapeake Bay very well all those years.

Larry represented Maryland watermen. Sport fishermen and charter captain leaders represent those groups. CBF tries to represent the Bay. While there are plenty of differences between us, there is also a lot of common ground. In Larry's memory, I hope we can keep the focus on the common ground. That's the best recipe for saving the Bay and its fisheries.

—Bill Goldsborough
CBF's Director of Fisheries


A Legacy to Save the Bay

Danny Bowles.jpgIn life, Daniel "Danny" Bowles was a loving father, son, husband, brother, and loyal friend. Now, after his passing, those who love him are committed to ensuring his legacy lives on.

After he passed away in 2011 at the age of 37, Danny's family and friends created the Daniel Bowles Memorial Foundation to raise money in support of causes that he believed in. As an avid crabber, fisherman, and boater, Danny had a special place in his heart for the Chesapeake Bay.

Recently, on what would have been Danny's 39th birthday, his friends and wife, Genine, visited CBF's Merrill Center to make a donation to CBF in his memory. The donation represented the proceeds from the highly successful Daniel Bowles Memorial Bull Roast held last October, which was attended by 150 of his closest friends and family. This annual event is just one way Danny's family is keeping his memory alive.

Memorial donations like these are vital to CBF's continued success in our efforts to save the Bay. If you would like to learn more about how you can memorialize a loved one with a gift to CBF, visit our website or call us at 410/268-8816 (or 888/SAVEBAY).

—Brie Wilson


Bay's Health Showing Real Progress

The following op-ed appeared in Gazette.net Maryland Community News Online late last week.

SOTB_2012CoverThis is a historic moment in time for the Chesapeake Bay and all the rivers and streams throughout its entire six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed. In fact, this is the moment in time for the Chesapeake. Never before have the stars aligned so well for the Bay's future. While there has been some squabbling, and even lawsuits, by extremists on both sides, cooperation between individuals, businesses and government has led to real progress. The state of the Bay is improving.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's State of the Bay health index, the first such Bay report card and the longest running, shows a 14 percent improvement since 2008. Cooperation and sound science have overcome the narrow interests of opposition. We can clearly see a saved Bay in our generation.

But make no mistake, the Bay is not yet saved. A D+ is not a grade my parents, at least, would ever accept ("Report: Slight uptick in Bay’s health," Jan. 4). The Bay is still dangerously out of balance.

Overall, our State of the Bay Report shows that five of the 13 indicators are up, seven are unchanged, and only Bay grasses are down. In the last two-year reporting period, the levels of phosphorous pollution have declined, the amount of land permanently protected in conservation has increased, blue crabs have increased, and dissolved oxygen levels have increased. All of this shows a Bay fighting for survival, and the fact that the dissolved oxygen levels have actually improved during a period of high storm events may be a strong indication that the Bay's legendary resilience is returning.

Ironically, we worry that the good news, albeit modest, may breed a certain level of complacency among the public and even our elected officials. This would be a huge mistake, as the gains have been modest, incremental, and the system is still fragile. If we have learned anything over the years at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, it is the fact that the Bay is a study in contrasts, even contradictions.

Consider the one down indicator of the 13 in our report card—underwater grasses. Upper Bay grasses on the Susquehanna Flats tripled over the past 20 years, but declined in the last two-year reporting period. Grass beds in the Severn River are abundant, but in much of Virginia, grasses decreased, a victim of high water temperatures.

Going forward, here is what we all want for the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers: clean and safe water, abundant seafood and healthy habitat. Over the centuries, all three have been thrown out of balance. Now, thanks to good science informing good policy, supported and implemented by a broad base of cooperation, each is starting to show signs of improvement.

That some are lobbying Congress and suing in federal court to stop the progress is not only tragic, it is mind-boggling. All of us who value the Chesapeake and are determined to see a better future for our children and grandchildren must let our voices be heard. It is time to finish the job.

—William C. Baker
President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Learn more about our Save the Bay efforts through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.


Chesapeake Born: Bay Saving Lessons Learned, Looking Back

The below "Chesapeake Born" column appears monthly in the Bay Journal News Service.

Map2"Saving the Chesapeake Bay is a test; if we pass we get to keep the planet," wrote Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker in the foreword to a book I wrote about 20 years ago for CBF.

The Bay, on the doorstep of the nation's capital, polluted by all modern humans do, was as good a place as any to learn if humans could exist sustainably with the rest of nature.

What have we learned since that book, "Turning The Tide," was published in 1991? In a revised, 2003 edition I set out six "Lessons Learned" that looked back over the previous decade.

Then, the "lessons" seemed mostly that we still had a lot to learn.

Now it's two decades; time to revisit.

Myth of Voluntary: It was clear in 2003 that the voluntary nature of the Bay restoration was flawed. Our best successes had been the odd instances where we banned something, from using phosphate detergents to catching rockfish.

Only in the last few years was the voluntary model officially abandoned, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposing a mandatory pollution diet on the states.

The EPA's action "represents the biggest progress we've made in the last decade. . . goes far beyond what (EPA) has done anywhere else," said Roy Hoagland, a long-time top official of the Bay Foundation, now a private consultant.

It will be critical to further strengthen the EPA's hand, as local governments and states bridle at the costs of meeting water quality obligations, and as the Republican leadership in Congress vows to weaken the agency.

Accountability: Much positive has happened in the last decade or so—a science-based annual report card on the health of the Bay and tributaries from the University of Maryland; better defined goals for everything from oysters to open space; and the inclusion of air pollution as a significant impact on the Bay.

Agriculture, a leading source of Bay pollution, is becoming more accountable, though this remains a work in progress; a lesson not wholly learned.

Stormwater regulations have taken a leap forward, although the inspection and enforcement that will make them work lag badly.

Management of growth, Hoagland said, "continues to be our most miserable failure . . . we have yet to find the political will to control sprawl development."

All six states in the Bay watershed are now part of the restoration effort.

Leadership: Politics at the national level are even more partisan on the environment than they were during the 1990s—and even then environmentalists spent too much time playing defense when they needed progress.

Republican leadership is abysmal, environmentally. Democrats are better, but no longer pushed by Republicans to hold the line or improve. At state levels, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania have shifted back and forth among Democrat and Republican governors; and it was a Republican in Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, who gets credit for funding major sewage treatment upgrades.

A conclusion I made in 2003 rings even truer now: "The environmental community needs to rethink how to build a consensus for the Bay that reaches well beyond its own members." The environmental focus remains too narrow, too vulnerable to unfounded charges that it kills jobs and serves only an elite.

"As we go to press (in 1991) our optimism is tempered by an all-too predictable reaction to a faltering economy," Baker wrote. And in 2012 we still hear that the Bay must wait until the economy heals.

Money: We have spent billions on the Bay and need to spend more billions. But money, Hoagland stated, has not been the bottleneck stopping more progress.

He suggested it might become the bottleneck as we confront ever more expense with sewage and stormwater retrofits, where we are into areas of diminishing returns for our dollar.

We must look harder at removing taxpayer subsidies for growth and other activities that cost society money to offset their polluting effects, and also include the real costs of pollution in the prices we pay for doing business.

Maryland's Genuine Progress Indicator, a pilot program that subtracts environmental costs from economic growth, is a start on this.

Good Science: Science has led to better blue crab management; the use of cover crops to cut farm runoff; showed how development harms stream health, and led to (slowly) regulating manure to control phosphorus runoff.

But the EPA still lacks a coherent national policy on nitrogen, the Bay's main pollutant. Federal subsidies for ethanol from corn increase nitrogen runoff and don't reduce energy use. Nor is farm runoff elsewhere under federal scrutiny like here. Our agriculture needs a level playing field.

Defining Real Progress: We need "the guts to make fundamental changes," Baker wrote in 2003. In 2012, most progress still relies on tweaking technologies like sewage treatment, smokestack emissions and stormwater retention devices—all good, but avoid questions about limits to growth, or to diets that could reduce agricultural pollution dramatically.

Lessons learned? School's not over yet.

—Tom Horton

Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

Image: Courtesy of NASA.


Get Ready for Summertime Picnics!

Clagett2_BlogSummer vegetables at CBF's Clagett Farm. Photo by CBF Staff.

Nothing screams summer like crab cakes, grilled veggies, and rockfish tacos…yum! And no one cooks them better than Chef Emeril Lagasse. A few years ago, in an effort to promote healthy, eco-friendly cooking, Emeril came out to CBF’s Clagett Farm to learn about Vegetable Production Manager Carrie Vaughn’s organic, fertilizer-free way of planting veggies. While there, Emeril talked with Farm Manager Michael Heller as well about his methods of raising healthy, grass-fed cattle. The chef’s entourage even went rockfishing with CBF’s Senior Naturalist John Page Williams and learned about the challenges facing this important and tasty fish!

To get you in the mood for summer this Memorial Day Weekend, check out some of our favorite recipes courtesy of Emeril, our Facebook fans, and local food epicurean Rita Calvert. You’ll see these recipes use healthy, local foods, which not only prove to be good for the environment, but they taste great, too!

—Emmy Nicklin

Check out our complete listing of fresh and local recipes as well as more of Emeril’s “Taste of the Bay” recipes.  



Top five things you always wondered about Chesapeake Bay winters (but were too embarrassed to ask!)

IMG_0331Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

Though the weather of late may feel more like spring, let’s not forget we’re still in the heart of winter—an unusual time on the Chesapeake of darker, shorter days, low tides, and blistery cold weather (normally!). But just how exactly do things change on the Bay during the winter season, and more importantly, why? Here are answers to some of those burning questions you’ve always had but never asked about wintertime on the Chesapeake.  

  1.  Where do blue crabs go during the cold, weary months of winter?
    Like many of us, blue crabs are not big fans of cold weather. Instead of suffering through it, they will retreat to deeper waters during the winter months and burrow into muddy and sandy bottoms where they will remain in a dormant state until warmer weather returns. 
  2. Why is there so much waterfowl along the Chesapeake in winter?
    Unlike blue crabs, there is certainly no shortage of waterfowl along the Chesapeake in winter. In fact, most of the 28 species of ducks, geese, and swans that spend some time on the Chesapeake throughout the year do so in winter. Summering in colder climates like Alaska’s North Slope or Nova Scotia’s lake marshes, waterfowl come to the Chesapeake in search of food as their summering grounds have long-since frozen over. The Chesapeake Bay marshes and surrounding farmland provide the perfect place for waterfowl to winter and nibble on submerged aquatic vegetation, small shellfish, and left-over grain in farm fields.
  3. Why are the Chesapeake’s tides so low in winter?
    As CBF’s Director of Fisheries Bill Goldsborough says, “Tide levels in Chesapeake Bay are determined largely by two factors—the moon and the wind. The lunar effect on tides is from the gravitational pull of the moon on the water and thus changes as the moon revolves around the Earth…So, the lunar effect is predictable and is the basis for tide tables. In the Chesapeake, the wind is the second major control on tide level, but in some conditions of wind strength, direction, and duration, it can overpower the lunar effect. This is basically what happens with the blow-out low tides we sometimes see in winter. The prevailing winter wind direction here is northwest, and when it blows hard from that direction and for multiple days, it literally pushes water out of the Bay.” 
  4. Can the Chesapeake Bay ever freeze over?
    It can and it has. In fact, the Chesapeake Bay has been documented as freezing over in winter months a good seven times since 1780 says Chesapeake Bay Magazine. The last time the surface of the Bay froze over was in the brutal winter of 1976-77, when roughly 85 percent of the Bay and its rivers and streams formed ice.
  5.  Why is the water so clear in winter?
    The cold temperatures of winter slow the metabolisms and thus the rates of growth and reproduction for many organisms, including phytoplankton and zooplankton. In fact, their populations are at their lowest in the wintertime, therefore resulting in the clearest Bay water of the year.

—Emmy Nicklin

To learn more about the Bay and our work, click here.



Cupid Comes to the Chesapeake

IMG_0302_2_2_2[1]Two ospreys in a love nest. Photo by Susan Hallett.

It’s that time of year again—whether we like it or not! The time of red and pink, candy hearts and chocolates, cupids and couplings. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d take a look at signs of love in the oldest, most talked-about form of interaction there is right here in our own backyard—the Chesapeake Bay. And so without further ado, here are our picks for the top five most interesting mating habits found among Chesapeake critters (reader discretion is advised!):

  1. I Like the Way You Move
    The blue crab—the Chesapeake Bay’s iconic critter—uses quite an elaborate dance to attract its mate. Standing tall on his tippy toes, a mature male will extend and wave his claws rhythmically toward the female and as author William Warner describes in his famous Beautiful Swimmers: “Finally, to make sure he is not ignored, he snaps his body backward and kicks up a storm of sand with both swimming and walking legs. It is a spectacular finish. If all this fails to convince, the Jimmy will patiently repeat his repertoire, as most courting animals commonly do.” Generally, the on-the-cusp-of-molting females get the idea pretty quickly and respond with reciprocated claw waves. Soon she tucks her claws into a submissive posture and allows the male to clasp and carry her thus becoming a “doubler.” This position not only allows for mating but also ensures the male’s protection of the female as she vulnerably molts and sheds her shell.*** 

  2. Mr. Mom
    In the unusual case of the pipefish, most of the parenting duties fall to the father. In late spring/early summer, the female lays her eggs into the male’s brood pouch, where they are fertilized. For roughly two weeks, the male will hang vertically, camouflaged by underwater grasses, as he incubates the eggs until they hatch. He then releases a cloud of tiny, fully-formed pipefish directly from his pouch into the water.

  3. One Last Hurrah
    Alas, after spawning in mid-summer, jellyfish feel they have nothing left to live for and promptly die. But before that sorry state, a female’s eggs are fertilized when a male releases sperm into the water, which is then pumped through the female’s body as she swims. Once fertilized, eggs develop into tiny, free-floating larvae which the female then releases into the water where they float with the current and then attach to a firm surface. They will remain there as dormant polyps through winter until warmer weather induces them to break free and develop into floating medusa and eventual mature adults.

  4. The Best of Both Worlds
    Oysters have the unique ability to change sex over the course of their lives….say what now?! In fact, most oysters less than a year old are male, while most older oysters are female. Adults release sperm and eggs (a female can release about 100 million eggs each year!) into the water. Within 24 hours, the sperm finds and fertilizes the egg and then develops into free-swimming larvae. After two to three weeks, oyster larvae grow a foot, which is used to crawl over and explore various surfaces before settling down and attaching to a hard surface. 

  5. “My One and Only”
    Finally, ospreys are perhaps the most romantic creatures in the Chesapeake, mating for life and returning each year to nest in the same area where they were born. As true with many relationships, ospreys develop a strong partnership as they build their “home” or nest together in late winter. As they continue to play house, females lay eggs, which they incubate for one to two months. The devoted parents stick together and feed and care for the nestlings for 40-55 days after hatching until they learn to fly. 

—Emmy Nicklin

To ensure that these Bay critters will continue to procreate and engage in the scandalous activities described above, please take a moment now to support our clean water efforts.

 

***It’s worth noting that for years, the female crab keeps the sperm in a pouch and only fertilizes eggs with it in batches beginning the following spring when she is well on her way to the crab spawning grounds at the mouth of the Bay. The batches develop into “sponges,” an egg mass that matures over a few weeks, followed by the release of larvae that then are swept out to sea for a month or so before being swept back in the Bay by favorable currents. So mature female crabs can fertilize multiple batches of eggs from the same mating episodethey only have one encounter while males get to have many!

 


Why I'm a CBF Volunteer

Iamps earthday party crowdThe crowd at Hooper's own self-made Earth Day event at Iampieri's Bar, where she works in Catonsville, Maryland. All photos courtesy of Heather Hooper.

In February of 1984, my family moved to Essex, Maryland. A few days later I heard on the radio that someone named Bob Irsay had snuck out of town with the Baltimore Colts. I added the lack of a football team to the list of reasons my mom should let me go back to the Allegheny Valley and live with my Grandma, but it didn't help—I was stuck here. It wasn't easy making friends, but when I wasn't busy defending myself from really tough girls who wanted to beat me up because of my Pittsburgh accent, I had the chance to try blue crabs for the first time at a lovely house on the water. My new friend's dad stressed that the Old Bay Seasoning on the crabs could only be obtained locally, so when he pulled the first steaming crab out of a shopping bag, I thought the gritty stuff that stuck to its shell was sand and dirt from where it had actually been caught! This, of course, did not stop me from eating it and pronouncing it delicious.

I have learned a lot since high school—about the Chesapeake Bay and life in general. I’ve learned first-hand that its beauty should be shared and savored, not squandered. I have always enjoyed exploring trails and waterways, looking under rocks, seeing what lived there, and I continue to explore the streams and rivers of my youth, including the Patapsco River where I often hike now since moving to Catonsville. There are the remains of mills all along the river, one until recently made little boxes of muffin mix you could buy for less than a dollar. I read the ingredients on its blueberry muffin mix once: plenty of stuff I couldn't pronounce, and no blueberries. So if they were mixing dye and wax or whatever else to simulate blueberries, then what was left over for the company to dispose of in the conveniently located river?

Three years ago I wanted to go to a happy hour at Little Havana (love that place) for an event called "Green Drinks" that was being held all around the watershed on Earth Day. I couldn't go because I had to serve drinks at my workplace, Iampieri's Bar in Catonsville. But then I got the idea that we could host our own event, so I contacted the Volunteer Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Heather Tuckfield, to ask if we could participate. She was receptive and mailed me materials to share with my customers. We didn't make that much, about $250, but I didn't feel bad when I realized that it was $250 more than I had collected on any other Earth Day!

So we've been doing it every year now, making twice as much, and perhaps more importantly, getting people involved. Talented local musicians like Dave Linantud and Jeremy Burke have played, customers have donated their time, legislators have been contacted. I have been to the Merrill Center for wine and cheese, for fisheries updates, and training to speak on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I have presented lessons to Baltimore City students in their science classes, and I plan to do more, all around the state of Maryland. Oh, and I am learning about the watershed, what goes into the water and the crabs, rockfish, and everything else I'd like to eat that live in it, and how to fix it so that we all can.

—Heather Hooper

Looking for ways to get more involved with the Bay? From oyster gardening to becomming a CBF Speaker, take a look at the range of opportunities we offer and sign up here.

Lookin for geese ltlHeather Hooper and her daughter looking for geese in Patapsco Valley State Park.



Chesapeake Born: The Grand Experiment

IMG_0409Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

I have enjoyed the Chesapeake Bay for more than 60 years and written about it for nearly 40. Early in my reporting career, I realized I was covering more than pollution or the vicissitudes of fish and crabs.

I had a front row seat to a grand experiment. We had taken a world-class ecosystem and screwed it up big time, then begun an unprecedented effort to restore it, even as millions more people moved into the watershed.

For better or for worse, we were going to learn some lessons; important for the whole planet. Could an affluent, technologically sophisticated society forge a healthy and sustainable relationship with the rest of nature?

No one thought it would be easy or quick. Yet few thought we’d get this far with restoration still so far away, with so little certainty of meeting already postponed goals.

Much has gone in the right direction, offsetting somewhat the increased environmental pressures from a watershed-wide population that has doubled since I was a kid.

And looking at what’s worked suggests common threads.

Air pollution, a big source of Bay pollution, has decreased. Sewage treatment technology has improved to remove dramatically more nitrogen and phosphorus from waste.

Striped bass rebounded handsomely from dangerously low levels, and it seems within our grasp to operate blue crab harvests sustainably.

Lessons learned? The federal Clean Air Act has real teeth and good science behind it, and pretty good enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency across state boundaries. The federal Clean Water Act has enough authority over sewage treatment to prod polluting municipalities, with the water and sewer bills users pay providing reliable funding.

With striped bass, strong federal oversight was critical to a species that mostly spawned in the Chesapeake but was overfished throughout its multistate migratory range.

With bass and blue crabs, funding good science that included excellent long-term monitoring provided politicians with the backing they needed to make controversial decisions to curtail harvests.

So fund the science, collect the data, strengthen regulatory agencies and federal oversight, then set real deadlines with real penalties. Next election, ask your candidates where they stand on those issues.

More regulation isn’t the sole key to Bay progress. Across the watershed, 20 percent of all land has been protected as open space using tools ranging from voluntary easements that give up development rights to outright purchase.

There’s also room for using market forces to protect the environment. Removing subsidies that encourage polluting behavior would work—and save money. Assigning economic value to nature’s services that purify air and water would send the correct (higher) price signals to pavers and deforesters.

When Bay restoration began, we heard a lot about “win-win”—what was good for the Bay would also prove good for the bottom line.

But the pushback from two of the biggest Bay problem areas—agriculture and sprawl development—has blown away such easy assumptions. The development industry and its allies continue to own local decision-making bodies where most land-use decisions are made—and made badly for the public interest.

Farmers, who contribute the most pollution to the Bay—and the most cost-effective pollution to curtail—enjoy a good-guy image with the voting public. Most really are good guys who have done many good things for the environment, although too often these are not well-targeted at Bay restoration.

To both sprawl and farm runoff we have workable and affordable solutions but not the politics or laws that are up to the task.

More straight talk to the public and farmers is in order. There’s a disconnect between the great deal the science says needs remedying and the “mission accomplished” one often hears from agricultural bureaucracies.

But, in the fourth decade of Bay-saving, we are at least working on almost all of the pieces of the puzzle, from pollution to overfishing to protecting habitat.

The bad news is that governments and environmental groups in the watershed continue treating growth—indefinitely expanding both the human economy and population—as an “uncontrollable” environmental impact, which can only be accommodated, never rethought.

Is the grand experiment then doomed? I’m not wise enough to say.

I have grown wise enough to spend every moment I can outside exploring this still marvelous region from Cooperstown, N.Y., to the Virginia capes. If readers get one thing from these columns, I would hope for this: Get outdoors, explore and learn what it would mean to live sustainably in this place.
 

—Tom Horton

The above "Chesapeake Born" column appears monthly in the Bay Journal News Service. Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.