Susquehanna River: By the Numbers

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The Susquehanna River is unquestionably the most important river in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. To grasp the Susquehanna's sheer size and significance, take a glance at the numbers in the infographic above. Not only is this vital waterway is a critical economic resource and a bastion of cultural heritage in Pennsylvania, it also has a tremendous impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, with the Susquehanna providing half of the Bay's freshwater flows.

In light of the importance of the Susquehanna, the current health of the river is concerning. Agricultural runoff, acid mine drainage, and polluted urban runoff are threatening this powerful economic engine. A glaring example of this is the health of the smallmouth bass found in its waters. One of the most prized freshwater sport-fish species, the Susquehanna's smallmouth bass fishery once attracted anglers from all over the world. Pollution has taken a toll however, as various diseases have wreaked havoc on the smallmouth bass, with bass being found with lesions, sores, and abnormal sexual development in which males grow eggs in their testes. When smallmouth bass are diseased, weakened, or otherwise stressed, we know things aren’t right.

It's long past time for the Lower Susquehanna to be listed as impaired. This listing would designate the Susquehanna for additional study and new levels of investment in restoration. Stand with CBF and its partners in urging Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to save this vital waterway by listing the Lower Susquehanna River as impaired.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Water Quality Plays Key Role in Return, Survival of Bald Eagles

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

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A bald eagle snatching it's prey. Photo by Barbara Houston.

A new season of the Commonwealth's most popular, high-flying reality show is back online.

Millions are expected to log on to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) website and watch as live-streaming cameras show the drama of nature at several bald eagle nests in the Keystone State. The experiences open windows onto nature like never before.

People went online more than one and a-half million times last year to see a pair of bald eagles raise two eaglets in a nest near Codorus State Park. They saw the entire process, from "nestorations" in January, laying of the eggs in February, hatching in March, and the eaglets leaving the nest in June, as it happened. This is the tenth year for the nest and the second that cameras and microphones are there.

Another popular nest is in a Hackberry tree in the town of Hays, along the Monongahela River, near Pittsburgh. The camera and sound are sponsored by the Western PA Audubon Society. This is the third season a camera has watched the nest that eagles first used in 2013. Sadly, neither of the two eggs in the Hays nest were viable last year. But the year before, three eaglets thrived and successfully left the nest.

Those who lognon to the live cameras realize quickly that waterways play a key role in the lives of bald eagles and nesting sites are never far from water. Streams, lakes, and rivers are key habitat for bald eagles. In the winter, they congregate in tall trees near open water, to spot prey and shelter at night.

Fish make up almost 90 percent of a bald eagle's diet. Is there a more majestic sight than an eagle soaring and scanning open water, swooping gracefully downward, and then with their talons, plucking prey through the water's surface?

The Codorus eagles feed fish from Lake Marburg, Codorus Creek, and other York County waterways to their young ones. Bass from the Monongahela is often on the menu at the Hays nest.

So it's no secret that the survival and recovery of bald eagles in Pennsylvania are dependent on clean water, and the availability of healthy fish and other aquatic life. It is yet another reason we must make progress in restoring the 19,000 miles of waterways in Pennsylvania that are polluted. About 350 miles of waterways in York County are impaired.

The runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment is damaging our rivers and streams, and the Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its commitment to reduce polluted runoff.

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A screenshot of two bald eagles in their nest at Codorus State Park.

Also, consider findings of the latest multi-year study of the causes behind the deaths of young smallmouth bass, and lesions and spots on older smallmouths in the Susquehanna River. Some of those fish are served up in bald eagle nests throughout central Pennsylvania.

Endocrine-disrupting compounds and herbicides, and pathogens and parasites, are the two most-likely causes of diseased and dying fish in the Susquehanna. They are part of a perfect storm of compounds such as cosmetics, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and hormones in animal and human waste, that find their way into the diets of bald eagles and other wildlife.

On the bright side, the resurgence of bald eagles nationally and in Pennsylvania is an endangered species success story.

Habitat destruction, contaminated food sources, and illegal shooting took bald eagles to the brink of extinction. The road to recovery took major turns when the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972, and in 1978 when bald eagles were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

In 1980, there were only three known pairs of bald eagles nesting in Pennsylvania. Re-introduction began in the 1980's when the Game Commission brought 88 eaglets to the Commonwealth from Canada, raised them on specially constructed towers, and released them into the wild. Bald eagles were removed from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the lower 48 states in 2007.

By 2008 the number of nesting pairs in Pennsylvania had grown to 150. In 2013 there were nests in all but a handful of Keystone State counties and more than 270 nesting pairs.

Clean water counts in Pennsylvania. It is a legacy worth leaving future generations of humans and bald eagles.

Click here to access the Codorus cameras.

Click here to access the Hays camera.

—Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director

Bald eagles, other critters, and humans alike, depend on the health of the Susquehanna River. Take action now by asking Governor Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection to add the Lower Susquehanna to the Impaired Waters List.


This Week in the Watershed

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This week herbicides, pathogens, and parasites were revealed as major causes of the downfall of the smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River. Photo by John Pavoncello/York Dispatch.

As we have said many times before, as goes the Susquehanna, so goes the Chesapeake Bay. With over 50% of the Bay's freshwater coming from the Susquehanna, no body of water has a greater influence on the health of the Bay. More than that, the Susquehanna is a vital economic resource and a bastion of cultural heritage, most notably in Pennsylvania. One example of this is the Susquehanna's smallmouth bass fishery, which once attracted anglers from all over the world. Pollution has taken a toll on this fishery however, as the Susquehanna is now yielding bass with lesions, sores, and in one well-documented case, cancer.

This week, a report released by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found that herbicides, pathogens, and parasites are the two most-likely causes of diseased and dying fish in the Lower Susquehanna. Faced with evidence of this extent and magnitude, the only reasonable conclusion is that this river, the lifeblood of Pennsylvania and the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, is sick.

In recognition of this reality, we believe the Lower Susquehanna should be listed as impaired. This will designate the Susquehanna for additional study and new levels of investment in restoration. Stand with CBF and its partners in urging Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to save our river by listing the Lower Susquehanna River as impaired.

 This Week in the Watershed: A Dirty River, Raw Sewage, and A Backyard Brawl

  • Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is in a catch 22, desiring growth while not losing their rural identity. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • A report revealed that Baltimore has released 330 million gallons of raw sewage into Jones Falls, which flows into the Inner Harbor. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • The smallmouth bass population in the Susquehanna River is declining, and we now have a few clues as to why. (Patriot News—PA)
  • CBF is urging for Pennsylvania to declare the lower Susquehanna River as impaired. (CBF Statement)
  • What furry Chesapeake Bay critter has surprising ways to clean the water? (Bay Journal)
  • Virginia Beach is experiencing a brawl over a backyard. The conflict: where oyster harvesting should be allowed.  (Virginian-Pilot—VA)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

January 6

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Small, silvery, and packed with nutritional value, menhaden are a critical link in the marine food web. But the Chesapeake Bay's menhaden population are facing some serious issues. Learn about why menhaden are vital to the ecosystem, their management history, and the next steps to restore the population at our event "Little Fish, Big Issues - An Evening Discussion on Menhaden." Click here to register!
  • VA Eastern Shore: Join CBF's monthly Citizen Advocacy Training to get a crash course on timely Bay legislative priorities and learn how they affect Virginia's Eastern Shore. This conference call will also allow time for you to ask questions and discuss opportunities to lend a hand or lift your voice for clean water. Contact Tatum Ford at tford@cbf.org or 757-971-0366 for more information.

January 16-February 6

  • Virginia: Help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's rivers by participating in CBF's Grasses for the Masses program. Participants grow wild celery, a type of underwater grass, in their homes for 10-12 weeks. After 10-12 weeks of grow-out, participants will gather to plant their grasses in select local rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay. Workshops are being held throughout Virginia. Click to find one near you!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


This Week in the Watershed

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Mercury pollution is harming the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Photo courtesy iStock.

In the climate change "debate," a common refrain from deniers is that the warming we are witnessing is the result of natural variances in the climate cycle, rather than the result of record-level greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Indeed, in many cases of environmental degradation, polluters and maintainers of the status quo refuse to recognize human's contribution to the problems in the natural world. This despite that in many cases (such as climate change), direct, clear, and incontrovertible evidence proves beyond a reasonable degree of certainty a link between man's actions and harm to the environment. 

One example of this that is impacting the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams, is the proliferation of mercury in our air and waters. While mercury occurs naturally in the environment, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, sediments deposited in North American sediment cores since industrialization have mercury concentrations about 3-5 times higher than those found in older sediments. Today, human's primary exposure to mercury is though the consumption of fish. Calls to reduce mercury in our air and water have led the EPA to develop new regulations, particularly on power plants.

A recent study found that these emission controls on out-of-state power plants have greatly improved air quality in Maryland by reducing mercury pollution. While the air quality improved, fish found in Maryland rivers and streams are still contaminated with toxic levels of mercury. It appears that it will take time for the mercury already present in the environment to dissipate.

Despite the clear link between industrialization and mercury levels in our air and water, industry spokesmen still openly question the connection. The spreading of doubt and misinformation might continue, but it's clear that reasonable environmental regulations, such as those found in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, can make a dramatic difference in the environment—if nature is given enough time to respond.

 This Week in the Watershed: Mercury, Grazing, and Important Fish

  • CBF President Will Baker reflects on the water clarity throughout the Chesapeake Bay. (Huffington Post)
  • A report says islanders in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay could be the first "climate change refugees" in the continental United States. (Associated Press)
  • Emission controls required on out-of-state power plants have greatly improved air quality in Maryland. Unfortunately, Maryland's fish remain contaminated with mercury, as it will take years for the mercury already in the water to dissipate. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • A program was started for farmers to teach each other best practices surrounding rotational grazing. With benefits including healthier animals, increased profits, and cleaner waterways, there's a lot to gain. (WSLS—VA)
  • A record-breaking chicken farm proposed in Wicomico is raising eyebrows among environmentalists. (Daily Times—MD)
  • What really is the most important fish in the Chesapeake Bay? One study's answer might surprise you. (Bay Journal)
  • Pennsylvania is facing another obstacle in their fight for clean water—pharmaceuticals. Prescription drugs are finding their way into the rivers and streams with alarming results.  (The Sentinel—PA)

Lend Your Voice for Clean Water!

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

December 12

  • Virginia Beach, VA: With far more requests for speaker's than we have staff or time, CBF relies on its Speaker's Bureau volunteers to handle a variety of speaking opportunities. Whether you are current on the issues and ready to share our message, or just enjoy public speaking and would like to get trained, we welcome your commitment to this important and high-profile program. Join us to learn the facts and skills to share our mission to Save the Bay with local groups and organizations. Click here to register!

January 16-February 6

  • Virginia: Help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's rivers by participating in CBF's Grasses for the Masses program. Participants grow wild celery, a type of underwater grass, in their homes for 10-12 weeks. After 10-12 weeks of grow-out, participants will gather to plant their grasses in select local rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay. Workshops are being held throughout Virginia. Click to find one near you!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania Waters

The following first appeared in The Gettysburg Times.

Victoria Switzer
Victoria Switzer of Susquehanna County is concerned about her drinking water. With reports of high levels of pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania waterways, her concerns are warranted. Photo by Tom Pelton.

In 2001, 14 percent of Pennsylvania youths surveyed admitted to taking someone else's prescription drugs. The state Coroner's Association reported that there were 2,500 drug overdoses in the Commonwealth last year.

As Pennsylvania works to remedy the scourge of prescription drug misuse and abuse, the presence of pharmaceuticals in our rivers and streams is a double dose of reality for those concerned about water quality in the Keystone State.

An investigation by the Associated Press in 2008, found a total of 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts—antibiotics, pain relievers, and heart, mind, and veterinary drugs—in the City of Philadelphia's drinking water. Small quantities of drugs, including antibiotics, sex hormones, and anti-seizure compounds, were detected in public drinking water supplied to over 40 million Americans across the country.

While 70 percent of all antibiotics are used are for agriculture and animal husbandry, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found in Pennsylvania that the greatest source of pharmaceuticals in the rivers and streams is sewage treatment plants.

Pharmaceuticals find their way into the environment through treated effluent from sewage treatment plants, farmland irrigation with reclaimed wastewater, septic systems, manure from treated livestock, raw sewage discharges, and leaching from municipal landfills.

Our bodies excrete portions of pharmaceuticals that we take and have not been metabolized. This includes metabolites that may have biological activity of their own. For many pharmaceuticals, about 90 percent of the drug is metabolized. In some cases, a significant amount of the parent pharmaceutical is released as human waste or sweat.

Scientists believe the main way a great majority of pharmaceuticals are getting into the wastewater, is through disposal. It was reported at the Susquehanna Water Science Forum in 2013 that 54 percent of medications went into the trash and 35 percent went down the toilet or sink.

Many people still believe that keeping drugs out of the wrong hands means flushing unused medications down the toilet. In fact, they are introducing portions of those compounds into rivers and streams and eventually even drinking water.

While treatment plants may remove 95 to 98 percent of pharmaceuticals from sewage, low concentrations are still active biologically. No one treatment method can currently remove all pharmaceuticals.

In Pennsylvania, the USGS found low concentrations of pharmaceuticals that are used for other than agricultural purposes, upstream of drinking water intakes. This suggests that most pharmaceuticals near those intake sites entered the stream environment via municipal wastewater-treatment effluent or on-lot septic systems.

Private wells, which may also harbor pharmaceuticals, often receive limited to no treatment before consumption.

So far, there is little evidence that human health is negatively impacted by pharmaceuticals in the water. But health experts are concerned that small amounts of so many pharmaceuticals could have a synergistic and negative effect in humans. On the other hand, the effects on aquatic life from these "contaminants of emerging concern" in the water are well-documented, shocking, and sad.

Intersex fish have been found in the Susquehanna River. According to USGS researcher Dr. Vicki Blazer, about 90 percent of male smallmouths sampled had sexual abnormalities that include eggs growing in their testes. This intersex condition is believed to be linked to the presence of pharmaceuticals in the water.

Smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna continue to bear lesions and sores from a "perfect storm" of factors such as abundant, harmful runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, herbicides, cosmetics, detergents, and hormones in animal and human waste. These can weaken the smallmouths' immune systems and make them vulnerable to disease.

A drug take-back program operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) manages 410 drop-boxes across the Commonwealth where unused pharmaceuticals can be turned in for proper disposal. Since the program began two years ago, 32,000 pounds of prescription drugs have been collected. For more information, visit the DDAP website at www.ddap.pa.gov.

Geisinger Health Systems and others also have turn-in programs. Each year for the past 10 years, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has hosted a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

Clean water counts. We can all help protect our precious water supplies and rivers and streams, by limiting the amount of unused pharmaceuticals that get into the trash, sewers, septic tanks, and wastewater treatment plants.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director


Invasion of Body Snatchers Turns Mud Crabs into Zombies

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

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"Zombie Crabs" might sound like a fabricated sci-fi tale, but they are actually a consequence of a parasite inflicted on mud crabs in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Lara Lutz.

One creature invades the body of another. It snakes through the tissue and takes root, changing the behavior and appearance of its host. And then, a reproductive victory: The host must raise the invader's young in place of its own.

This sounds like science fiction, but it's not. It's a real world biological process taking place largely unnoticed in portions of the Chesapeake Bay.

The players in this drama are the small, white-clawed mud crab and an even smaller parasite called the Loxothylacus panopaei or Loxo for short.

Mud crabs infected by Loxo have been dubbed "zombie crabs" by scientists and volunteers who are working to understand the process and its impact on the crab's population. The work is led by biologist Monaca Noble and biodiversity genomics fellow Carolyn Tepolt of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD.

"It's kind of an amazing story," Tepolt said.

The Loxo parasite is native to the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and parts of Florida. Its presence as an invasive species in the Chesapeake region was first recorded in Virginia's York River in the 1960s, and researchers suspect it arrived on the shells of Gulf oysters that were imported to seed commercial oyster reefs.

The Loxo infects at least nine species of mud crabs throughout its range. In the Chesapeake, its target is the Rhithropanopeus harrisii, a brown crab with white claws that typically grows no larger than a human thumbnail.

In its larvae stage, the Loxo resembles a microscopic barnacle that floats freely through the water. Within days, it transforms to a more shield-like shape and seeks a host. Timing is critical. The Loxo can only infect a mud crab for about 24 hours after the crab molts, when its exoskeleton is soft and unprotected. Only females invade a host.

"They travel through the crab tissue and form rootlets, little tendrils throughout the tissue of the crab," Tepolt said.

When the process is complete, the union is disturbingly thorough. "You can't find a distinct individual parasite inside the crab, so you can't dissect it out," Tepolt said. "It's a body-snatcher."

When the crab molts again, the Loxo prepares to reproduce. A sac forms under the abdomen or apron of the crab, and a male Loxo attaches itself long enough to provide sperm. The next generation begins to form inside. The sac enlarges, pushes out the crab's abdomen, and becomes visible — the only sign of infection that can be observed without a microscope.

Thousands of larval parasites emerge from a pore in the sac about every five to 10 days. The process repeats several times before the sac is exhausted and a fresh one takes its place.

During this process, the Loxo shuts down the crab's ability to produce its own young.

"The body snatcher aspect of this is that it essentially castrates the crab, and all of its energy goes to support the parasite's reproduction," Tepolt said. "It changes the crab's behavior so that it takes care of the larvae as if they were its own eggs. They put their legs and claws around the sac in a defensive posture and attempt to protect it. Even the males do it."

Males transform physically, too. "Male crabs are feminized," Tepolt said. "The shape of their abdomen changes and gets rounder, like the females." This makes it easier for male crabs to hold, aerate, and protect the Loxo's eggs.

Tepolt and Noble are in the midst of both short-term and long-term studies that are investigating the impact on mud crab populations and the ecological conditions that might help them resist the parasite.

Smithsonian biologists began investigating the parasite 12 years ago, but the work was not always well-funded. Preserved crabs, infected and not, often sat in the lab awaiting time-intensive analysis.

In recent years, a robust volunteer program has boosted the research effort. This summer, 87 volunteers helped to collect mud crabs from the research center's dock and other sites across southern Maryland. A smaller team of regular volunteers helps in the lab year-round.

"We have information on crab size, distribution, sex ratio and whether they have the parasite or not," Noble said. "But now, going forward, the project has a second goal. How can we engage volunteers, teach them about the biology of these parasites, and teach them invasion ecology? It's a great opportunity."

As a result of volunteer support, the effort now includes 12 long-term sites and 10 sites that were added this year to support a more comprehensive analysis of the Rhode River, a small tributary south of Annapolis where the Smithsonian lab is located.

The number of mud crabs found at the sites has varied greatly from one year to the next, making it difficult to assess the larger population. In general, fewer mud crabs are found in places with more parasites, and this could be related to the shutdown of the mud crab reproductive system. Still, researchers say this particular type of mud crab is likely abundant in the Chesapeake Bay and, according to Noble, that's good.

"There are lots of animals that we don't eat that are still important to the Bay," Noble said. "Mud crabs are one of them. They are important predators. They eat a lot of things that live on oyster shells. They are also important prey for other crabs, fish and birds — a tasty treat for many things."

The presence of Loxo at study sites has varied too. "Some places don't have parasites at all and others have high abundance. Trying to tease apart the reasons is more problematic," Noble said.

Researchers speculate that low salinity and cool temperatures help to reduce infections, and preliminary data suggest mud crabs in the parasite's native range are much more resistant to attack.

But more research is needed. It could yield important information for mud crabs, as well as any potential situation in which related parasites invade the Bay and affect other species. The Loxo has not attacked blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, but a related species of parasite does impact blue crabs in the Gulf of Mexico.

"If it's not a problem now, could it be, if conditions change?" Noble asked.

—Lara Lutz

In honor of Halloween and creepy creatures like the zombie crab, check out our Top Five Scariest Chesapeake Critters!


Fones Cliffs: It Could Be Lost Forever, Part 4

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Waterman Albert Oliff lands his skiff at Carter’s Wharf. Oliff has been fishing the Rappahannock for more than 50 years. Photo by Hill Wellford.

For 20 years Wayne Fisher has made a living as a waterman on the Rappahannock River in Virginia's Northern Neck, following in the footsteps of generations of fishermen in his family. These days, Wayne and his son Aaron work their pound nets on the highly productive stretch of river sandwiched between Fones Cliffs and Beverly Marsh, often teaming up with longtime waterman Albert Oliff. Pound nets are an ancient fishing technique, and these watermen are carrying on a way of life that has changed little since Captain John Smith sailed through this area in 1608.

But change is afoot on this part of the Rappahannock. In recent years, fewer and fewer pound nets are worked on the river as sediment clouds the water and more and more recreational boaters accidentally damage nets and free the catch, the watermen say. Fisher fears that the proposed massive development at Fones Cliffs* will further threaten the Rappahannock's fishery. "I certainly depend on this river full time. It's how I make a living, it's how I support my family, and it's how I pay my bills," he says. "This development would affect my livelihood, causing more runoff, more erosion, and more boat traffic."

3 (Bill P)
Watermen Wayne and Aaron Fisher land their catch of blue catfish at Carter’s Warf after emptying pound nets off Fones Cliffs. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

What worries Fisher is the scale of the commercial development, along with the likely increased sediment and nutrient runoff into the river from the homes and golf course. "If they had asked for something simpler like 50 homes that might have been alright. But what they want to do is completely outrageous—718 homes, a hotel, horse stables, a golf course, seven piers. I don't see how you can even put in seven piers there," he says. "I have a concern for the river. It's not just a concern for me as a waterman, it's also a concern for the tributaries and the Bay."

Fisher's concerns are especially timely this week, as Richmond County is set to consider on October 8 a request to rezone nearly 1,000 acres along Fones Cliffs, a move that would pave the way for the development. "More buildings mean more runoff and more chemicals in the river. Richmond County needs to take into consideration that this river is how I make my living. It is how I survive. Don't take that away from me," he says.  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Stand with us in protecting this jewel of the Rappahannock for all the fish and watermen who depend on it. Click here to sign the petition to Save the Eagles, Save Fones Cliffs before the rezoning hearing this Thursday, October 8!

*The part of Fones Cliffs that is owned by the Diatomite Corporation of America.

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The watermen set their pound nets in the productive stretch of the Rappahannock between Fones Cliffs and Beverly Marsh. Photo by Kenny Fletcher/CBF Staff.

This Week in the Watershed

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While the blue crab was recently found to tolerate higher levels of hypoxia than previously thought, they're not out of danger. Photo by Damon Fodge.

As any mountain climber can attest, reaching new heights brings with it increased difficulty. The decreasing amount of oxygen in the air makes every breath more trying, to the point where oxygen is needed through personal tanks. Even the best of athletes can find themselves out of breath when facing low-oxygen environments.

In the Chesapeake Bay, critters are finding themselves facing a similar obstacle, as increased dead zones and warming waters from our rapidly changing climate are decreasing the level of oxygen in the water. Known as hypoxia, this condition depletes the Bay of life, devastating the ecosystem.

While new research by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science reveals blue crabs are more resilient to hypoxic conditions than previously thought, other creatures it depends on for food are vulnerable. The threat is clear and the plan to save the Bay is desperately needed. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, if implemented, can make a dramatic difference in bringing oxygen levels back to safe and healthy levels in the Bay. Now wouldn't that be a breath of fresh air!

This Week in the Watershed: Keystone Pollution, Environmental Literacy, and Blue Crabs

  • Agencies throughout Pennsylvania's state government are exploring ways to accelerate pollution reduction efforts in the Keystone State. (Lancaster Farming—PA)
  • The environmental literacy requirement in Maryland has been a huge success thus far. (What's Up Mag—MD)
  • How will blue crabs respond to increasing water temperatures due to climate change? New research reveals intriguing findings. (Daily Press—VA)
  • ICYMI, the American Farm Bureau Federation is continuing its fight against the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, filing for an extension of time to ask the Supreme Court to hear its appeal. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

October 7

  • Virginia Beach, VA: CBF is hosting the second annual "Living Waters: Wading In" Interfaith Summit. Join us for a day of music, prayer, inspiring speakers, and collaborative work sessions as we explore ways the faith community can celebrate, protect, and restore our rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Click here to learn more and register!

October 9

  • Annapolis, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Annapolis October 9. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

October 10

  • Easton, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Easton October 10. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!
  • St. Michaels, MD: Join us for a sail on CBF's historic skipjack, the Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the Bay's oyster population. Click here to register!

October 11

  • Baltimore, MD: CBF's oyster gardening program is expanding to Baltimore Harbor! We're looking for 50 new gardeners to care for two cages of oysters each over the winter and then "plant" them on a reef in the spring. This unusual hobby is fun, educational, and helps to clean the harbor waters. Register here!

October 12

  • Annapolis, MD: The Annapolis VoiCeS Course, a six-week adult education class on Mondays, starts October 12! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting Maryland and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!

October 13

  • Easton, MD: The Eastern Shore of Maryland VoiCeS Course, a six-week adult education class on Tuesdays, starts October 13! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting Maryland and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Current CBF oyster gardeners can pick up baby spat for the upcoming season. Register here!

October 14

  • Baltimore, MD: Get your hands dirty planting trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses in a vacant lot in West Baltimore that CBF and a coalition of groups are restoring. Click here to register!

October 15

  • Edgewater, MD: Another opportunity for current CBF oyster gardeners can pick up baby spat for the upcoming season. Register here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


This Week in the Watershed

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A crew of watermen on the Chesapeake work to bring in their catch in the light of early morning. Photo by Joseph Stallings.

Just as oysters, blue crabs, and rockfish are inextricably linked to the Chesapeake Bay, so are the watermen who make their living off the water. Indeed, the culture, history, and economy of the Bay are covered with their fingerprints. Look no further than historic skipjacks sailing across the water, oyster packing houses, and of course, tasting the bounty of the Bay.

This bounty, however, is a finite resource. And regulating this public resource can become contentious. Striking the balance between maintaining a healthy fishery without threatening the watermen's livelihood is a significant challenge. At times, government agencies responsible for the management of fisheries are accused of waging a war on watermen.

Upon further inspection, however, CBF's Director of Fisheries Bill Goldsborough reveals a telling truth, writing, "Watermen need to direct their anger at the real culprits. Attacking public servants only doing their jobs is shooting the messenger. The root cause of the watermen's culture crisis is the degradation of the Bay."

Pollution is harming our beloved Bay critters and the watermen's very livelihood. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is the key to reversing this trend. With the implementation of the Blueprint, we stand to provide a healthy fishery for generations to come—bringing with it clean water, a thriving economy, and a culture intricately woven together with the Chesapeake Bay.

This Week in the Watershed: Watermen's Real Culprit, Restoring Streams, and Preserving Captain Smith

  • No one wants to swim in dirty water. CBF is helping to expose the pollution levels of some Maryland swimming holes, revealing some alarming results. (Bay Journal)
  • As mentioned above, government agencies responsible for the management of fisheries are often accused of waging a war on watermen. As CBF's Director of Fisheries Bill Goldsborough points out however, the real culprit is pollution. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • We're big fans of stream restoration projects, helping improve the health of both local waters and all waters downstream, including the Chesapeake Bay. Beaver Creek in Maryland is the latest to see restoration. (Herald Mail—MD)
  • The Chesapeake Bay Captain John Smith first encountered in the 17th century looks much different than the Bay we see today. A recent victory, however, has ensured a portion of Captain Smith's Historic Water Trail will be preserved. (Virginia Gazette—VA)
  • The work to save the Bay has evolved over time and involved multiple players. CBF is glad to do its part in helping implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the best, and perhaps last chance to save the Bay. (Star Democrat—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

August 22

  • Richmond folks, come on out for a streamside clean-up. Prizes will go to the neatest finds! Contact Blair Blanchette, Virginia Grassroots Coordinator, at bblanchette@cbf.org or call 804-780-1392 to participate.
  • Get an in-depth education of one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings in the world by getting a tour of CBF's Brock Environmental Center. Reservations are strongly recommended but not required. Call 757-622-1964 or e-mail BrockCenterGreenTours@cbf.org.

August 26

  • You're invited to an exclusive open house for oyster gardeners and oyster restoration volunteers at Horn Point Oyster Hatchery. Tour the facility, learn about opportunities for further volunteering, and chat with the Horn Point oyster experts! Afterward, join us at the nearby Real Ale Revival Brewery in Cambridge for happy hour specials and even more mingling with fellow oyster enthusiasts and CBF staff. Space is limited! RSVP's are required to Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org or 410-543-1999.

August 28

  • Get an in-depth education of one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings in the world by getting a tour of CBF's Brock Environmental Center. Reservations are strongly recommended but not required. Call 757-622-1964 or e-mail BrockCenterGreenTours@cbf.org.

August 31

  • Break a sweat while saving the Bay! Come on out to the Maryland Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, MD for some shell shaking! This fun activity helps restore the Chesapeake's native oyster population by cleaning oyster shells (we call it "shell shaking") by shaking off the dirt and debris so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. RSVP to Pat Beall at pbeall@cbf.org or 443-482-2065. Learn more here.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


The "War on Watermen"

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Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun earlier this week.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been accused of waging a "war on watermen," and watermen are fighting back, seeking changes in the way the bay's fisheries are being managed. They say their livelihoods are being undermined and their culture threatened. They are right about that, but they are directing their anger at the wrong people.

Maryland's oyster restoration program is a focal point for this dispute. In 2010, as part of a comprehensive effort to turn around this important but depleted resource, DNR set aside 24 percent of Maryland's productive oyster grounds as "sanctuaries" where harvest was not allowed. The idea was to build up oyster numbers in these areas so they could provide "ecological" benefits, such as filtering the water and building reefs, and also reproduce prodigiously to boost the population.

Maryland watermen have always had access to all oyster grounds, and they want it to stay that way. However, this history of allowing harvest everywhere is well documented as one of the main reasons the Bay's oysters declined to 1 percent of their previous abundance by the 1980s.

In our view the sanctuaries are actually the best hope for watermen, because they promise to boost reproduction and help turn around the fishery. By leaving 76 percent of the resource open to harvest, DNR is actually deferring to watermen's concerns, considering that a recent University of Maryland study recommended completely closing the fishery.

But the question should not be whether to compromise the resource again to give the watermen a short-term windfall. It should be, why are watermen barely getting by on a body of water like Chesapeake Bay with a storied history of productive fisheries? No doubt overfishing has been a factor historically, but the fundamental reality is that today's degraded Chesapeake Bay cannot produce the fish and shellfish it once did. And DNR officials must, as responsible stewards of those resources, limit catches accordingly.

The bay is choking on an overload of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from a variety of pollution sources. The results of this over-enrichment are massive population explosions of algae that turn the water to pea soup from spring to fall. This cloudy water blocks sunlight from underwater grasses, reducing this critical habitat for crabs and juvenile fish to only 20 percent of historical coverage.

Furthermore, dead algal cells fall into deeper water where they decompose, burning up precious dissolved oxygen. The resultant "dead zone" can claim up to 40 percent of the Bay's volume where no fish or shellfish can long survive. Low dissolved oxygen has been implicated in a wide range of impacts to fish and shellfish, including diseases of both oysters and rockfish. It also crowds blue crabs into shallow water where there is no grass bed coverage, and predation, competition, and cannibalism take their toll.

This is the real "war on watermen." It's also a war on recreational fishermen and crabbers, as well as charterboat captains and anyone else who derives enjoyment from the fish and shellfish of the Bay. Pollution is not just an abstract concept. There are real human impacts, and watermen and their families are the poster children for those impacts. They are right that their livelihoods are being undermined and their culture threatened. That culture, from workboats on the Bay to seafood restaurants on shore, is the most compelling reason for saving the Bay.

Watermen need to direct their anger at the real culprits. Attacking public servants only doing their jobs is shooting the messenger. The root cause of the watermen's culture crisis is the degradation of the Bay.

The good news is it can be fixed. A formula exists for how to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution: the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Every state and jurisdiction in the Bay's watershed has a role to play under the Blueprint, because the cause is ultimately human activity throughout the watershed.

Few people realize they are complicit in this war on watermen, but that's the bottom line. Watermen can help them understand that by becoming strong advocates for the Blueprint. If all fisheries stakeholders worked together and helped create a greater sense of urgency for reducing pollution, this war could be won, and the Bay could again support productive fisheries.

—Bill Goldsborough, CBF's Director of Fisheries

Sign our Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint pledge showing your support for a healthy, restored Bay, rivers, and streams that support our watermen, our communities, and our quality of life.