Marylanders Agree: Hands off Our Oyster Sanctuaries

With more than six million residents, Maryland is a melting pot of diverse citizens, with different political leanings, religious beliefs, and racial backgrounds. Differences aside, all Marylanders are affected by the health of the state's rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Integral to the health of the Bay is the mighty oyster. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters.

Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting. In 2010, Maryland and other Bay states joined together to increase the native oyster population, establishing sanctuary reefs to allow oysters to proliferate unencumbered by harvesting. These reefs grew and expanded, with the estimated number of oysters in the Bay more than doubling between 2010 and 2014.

A recent poll conducted by a bipartisan research team found Marylanders understand and appreciate this success, with overwhelming support to maintain existing Chesapeake Bay oyster sanctuaries.

The numbers speak for themselves:Oyster Poll Results Graphic-1200

This strong support exists across party lines, as approximately 91 percent of registered Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 82 percent of Republicans support sanctuaries. Moreover, public support for the sanctuaries actually increased after the survey summarized the oyster industry's reasons for wanting to expand harvesting, rising from 88 percent to 91 percent.

This consensus is quite a contrast to the recently submitted proposal by the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission to let the oyster industry harvest nearly 1,000 acres of oyster reefs which currently are off-limits to harvesting.

Currently, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill (HB 924) which would require the state to hold off on any alterations of the oyster sanctuaries until a scientific assessment of the oyster stock is completed in 2018.

The success of Maryland and the Bay, North America's largest estuary and a true national treasure, are mutually interdependent. Shaping more than just the state's coastline, Maryland's economy, culture, and history are covered with the Bay's fingerprints. No critter is more important to this success than the oyster. And while the recent State of the Bay report finds the health of the Bay is rebounding, it remains a system dangerously out of balance.

Those who call the Old Line State home might have their differences, but Marylanders across the board agree on this: Our oyster sanctuaries are worth protecting.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

Take action right now to urge Maryland legislators to protect oyster sanctuaries and the value they provide to clean water and countless marine species.


The View of an Oyster Sanctuary

The following first appeared in the Chestertown Spy.

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Maryland's oyster sanctuaries are under threat. Photo by Dave Harp.

The fate of Maryland's oyster population is being worked out in a church basement in Annapolis.

That's where the state Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meets the second Monday of each month. This is the group appointed by Governor Hogan to review the state's oyster management system, and to recommend changes, if necessary. 

This past Monday night was perhaps the most important OAC meet so far. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented a proposal to open up about 970 acres of 'sanctuary' oyster reefs to harvest.

As I have on several occasions, I sat in on the OAC meeting. But it was difficult to sit still.

The makeup of the OAC is controversial, filled mostly with watermen and those who sympathize with their views. The direction the OAC is taking also is controversial. 

The controversy brings out the crowds. The OAC meetings used to take place in a meeting room at the DNR headquarters right next door. So many people began showing up, DNR had to move the meeting to the fellowship hall of the Calvary United Methodist Church on Rowe Blvd. Now even that room is often jammed.

Watermen feel the state has cheated them. Under prior governor Martin O'Malley the state increased the acres of productive oyster reefs set aside as sanctuaries—those areas that can't be harvested. O'Malley himself was guided by scientists' warnings that so few oysters remained in the Chesapeake that the status quo was no longer viable.

With input from everyone involved with oysters, the harvest industry included, O'Malley increased from nine percent to 24 percent the portion of oyster bars protected as sanctuaries. Three-quarters of reefs were to remain open to harvest. He also relaxed decades-old regulations to give watermen more opportunities to farm oysters rather than harvest them in the wild. In Virginia, oyster aquaculture is a booming business, but at the time of O'Malley's new plan it was negligible in Maryland. The idea was to boost watermen's earnings, and simultaneously to take out an insurance plan for the future of oysters in the Bay.

There's no doubt short term watermen took a hit. They had fewer places to harvest, although fortunately for them Mother Nature provided strong oyster reproduction for several years, resulting in strong harvests. 

Scientists and groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) where I work sympathized with the watermen. But we believed someone had to take the long view before oysters were wiped out completely.

CBF, along with a host of western and Eastern Shore groups such as the Midshore River Conservancy, St. Mary's River Watershed Association, and others, believe the OAC proposal to shrink the sanctuaries is ill-advised. At a minimum, the state must wait till DNR finishes a stock assessment of the oyster population. You wouldn't start spending more money without knowing what's in your bank account. That's exactly what the proposal would do.

It would open up 1,277 acres of sanctuaries for harvest in the following rivers and Bay segments: Upper Chester, Miles, Wye, Upper Choptank, Hooper Strait, Upper Patuxent, and Tangier Sound. It would expand sanctuaries by 300 acres in: Mill Hill/Prospect Bay, Eastern Bay, Lower Choptank, and Nanticoke River. The net result would be 977 fewer acres in sanctuaries, an 11 percent reduction in those sanctuary acres.

It's only 11 percent, you might say. But it's 11 percent of the most productive, healthy sanctuary bars in the Bay. And it is giving away these protected areas before we have any idea the true size of the oyster population. That's not scientific. That's not sound judgment. Harvesting oysters on those 977 previously protected acres could do irreversible damage to the fragile population.

A bill in the Maryland General Assembly, HB 924, would freeze any alterations in the sanctuaries till after the stock assessment. Oyster harvesting is the only major fishery in Maryland that isn't managed with a science-based plan. It pays us to wait till we have the science before we implement a major change such as OAC is considering.

The bill will be heard this Friday, Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. We urge people concerned about the proposal to shrink sanctuaries to make their voice heard.

—Tom Zolper, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Stand up for oysters now! Ask your legislators to support a new bill that would stop changes to oyster sanctuaries from happening before there is sound science to back them up.


Forest Conservation Law Needs Bolstering

The following first appeared in the Capital Gazette.

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Maryland's forests remain at risk if the Forest Conservation Act is not strengthened. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

Thanks to the controversial Crystal Spring development project, Annapolis residents probably know more than most Marylanders about the state Forest Conservation Act, or FCA. They know that in a battle to save trees, the law can feel about as forceful as a wiffle ball bat.

Enacted in 1991, the law is intended to minimize how much forest a developer cuts down. The Crystal Spring developers proposed to clear about half of the woods on the property on the ironically named Forest Drive. They argued the FCA allows such large clearance.

The City of Annapolis is rewriting its own forest conservation ordinance, so it is stronger than the state law.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation feels the state law itself needs to be strengthened. It's time for Anne Arundel County and other jurisdictions across Maryland to realize the law isn't working as intended. Too much forest is coming down and not being replaced. State records show Maryland lost a net 14,480 acres of forest to development projects in the past eight years.

Inspired by Annapolis' effort, CBF is pushing the state legislature to amend the FCA. Just as it was passionate citizens from the Annapolis Neck, Eastport, and other neighborhoods in and outside Annapolis who educated city officials, we now need Marylanders to tell their state delegates and senators they support Senate Bill 365 and House Bill 599.

The legislation, scheduled for a hearing Wednesday before the House Transportation and the Environment Committee (with a rally at Lawyers Mall beforehand), would require developers to replant an acre of forest for each acre they cut down. It also would give local governments flexibility to charge builders higher fees when they claim they can't replant. Currently, those fees are so low in some places that they don't cover the cost of replanting.

The Crystal Spring project got substantial scrutiny in the past few years for proposing to cut down 43 acres of forest. But development projects beyond the city limits in Anne Arundel have received little scrutiny as they cut down forest — 410 acres in fiscal 2016, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

It's difficult to determine the total forest loss to development in Anne Arundel over a longer period. The county did not submit annual reports about its FCA implementation in five of the past eight years. The reports are required by the FCA. Maryland did not enforce the reporting requirement.

But the three reports available show Anne Arundel County allowed builders to clear an average of about 45 percent of all forests on their properties prior to construction, or 682 acres. The county required builders to replant only 61 acres in those years.

Many Anne Arundel developers have paid the fee-in-lieu instead of replanting what they cut. It's unclear how much of those funds the county has used to replant trees that were cleared.

The state legislation, SB 365 and HB 599, offers a better solution: require developers to replant more than they do now and give localities the right to charge higher fees if developers want to avoid replanting. Taken together, these changes will finally reflect the true value of trees to Anne Arundel citizens.

Forests provide enormous health, environmental, and economic benefits to communities. A single acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide annually, and produces enough oxygen in a day to support 18 people, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. A 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville calculated the forests of Prince George's County provide at least $12 billion in public benefits. Anne Arundel forests likely provide comparable services.

Are we prepared to pay the piper for losing those benefits?

Let forests continue to help us. Support SB 365 and HB 599.

—Erik Fisher, CBF's Maryland Assistant Director

Speak for the trees! Send a message to your legislators today letting them know you want them to support strengthening the Forest Conservation Act.


Photo of the Week: Late January Snow Along the Bay

Snowy Tree 2017
[Taken just after late January's snowfall in Huntingtown, Maryland.]

Almost every day I walk down to the beach and take pictures of the amazing sunrise. On this day the snowfall was so beautiful and had stuck to everything . . . which made this weeping willow even more beautiful.

I simply LOVE living on the Bay and sharing the beauty with everyone.

—Eve Shoemaker

Ensure that Eve and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Director of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


Photo of the Week: The Supermoon and the Mighty Potomac

DSC_2767CBF The Supermoon of November 13 2016
"The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course; but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished." —Ming-Dao Deng

 

As the supermoon (AKA the beaver moon) rises over ridgelines of Blockhouse Point Conservation Park and Sharpshin Island under fall skies, the mighty Potomac becomes vividly reflective of its serene beauty and deeply solemn among paddlers who enjoy this magical and wondrous waterway through all the seasons.

—Dom J. (DJ) Manalo

Ensure that DJ and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


Photo of the Week: Smith Island Morning

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I took this picture of Ewell, Smith Island on the morning of October 21, 2016.  I was participating in a CBF retreat for Maryland Teachers of the Year. CBF's Capt. Jessie Marsh was taking us out to check our crab traps.

I cannot speak highly enough about how passionately the CBF staff (Jessie, Norah, Kat, Adam, and David)  worked to inspire us to advocate for Maryland's most precious natural resource and energize the next generation of Chesapeake Bay stewards.

—Anne Highfield, Cecilton Elementary School Teacher 

Ensure that Anne, her students, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Note about the photo: "I should also note that I took the photo with my iPhone and edited it with a few apps (Snapseed, Glaze, Mextures, and Image Blender.)"

 


This Week in the Watershed: A Growing Source of Pollution

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Polluted runoff is one of the major sources of pollution growing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Seventeen million. That's the number of people living in the Chesapeake Bay region. This presents a natural obstacle to clean water, most notably in efforts to reduce polluted runoff. A major source of pollution that continues to grow, water flowing off our streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, picks up all kinds of pollutants like pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and automotive fluids. As more houses, roads, and shopping centers are built, more of this polluted runoff makes its way through gutters and storm drains to the nearest river or stream and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.

Given this reality, it's disappointing Maryland's Department of Environment is allowing localities to skirt their responsibilities by not funding efforts to reduce polluted runoff. While polluted runoff improvements might not top the list of most compelling government expenditures, failing to make this investment will all but guarantee clean water will remain out of reach.

The more impermeable surfaces we develop, saving the Bay and its rivers and streams will only become more difficult. If we want to leave a legacy of clean water to future generations, we need to fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. With 17 million residents living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—certain to only balloon further—failing to invest in efforts to reduce polluted runoff is a mistake we cannot afford.

P.S.- Our fall version of e-news just hit inboxes yesterday. Check out these state and program updates! Pennsylvania | Maryland | Eastern Shore of Maryland | Virginia | Hampton Roads | Federal Affairs

This Week in the Watershed: Reducing Runoff, Hungry Geese, and Pumping Water

  • Hampton Roads is taking an innovative approach to impede the slowly rising sea. (Washington Post—D.C.)
  • Canadian geese aren't receiving a very warm welcome in the Anacostia River wetlands, as they are hindering efforts to restore tidal marshes. (Bay Journal)
  • Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director, spoke to the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy, and Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees, advocating for a sustainable funding stream for Pennsylvania's clean water reboot. (CBF Press Statement)
  • The giant blue crab caught on a CBF Education trip in the lower Susquehanna Flats last week is still turning heads! (Bay Journal)
  • Throughout Maryland, many localities are not properly funding measures to reduce polluted runoff. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
  • The proliferation of chicken houses on an industrial scale across the Eastern Shore has raised economic, environmental, and public health concerns among residents. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

October 22

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Come on out to a sustainable living expo. This fun, family-friendly event is designed as a showcase for eco-friendly, sustainable solutions, crafts, and food, with many participating organizations. See ideas you can use at your home from edible landscaping and urban gardening to beekeeping and alternative energy. CBF is also looking for volunteers to help staff a CBF display and share information with attendees at the expo. This event is suitable for all volunteer experience levels, so come out, share, and learn. Email or call Tanner Council to inquire and volunteer at tcouncil@cbf.org or call 757-622-1964.

October 29

  • Woodsboro, MD: Help CBF plant over 1,000 trees and shrubs along Israel Creek on a beef cattle farm in Frederick County. Approximately 5,000 feet of stream banks will be planted resulting in six acres of new riparian buffer. Israel Creek is in the Monocacy River watershed which flows to the Potomac River then to the Chesapeake Bay. Click here to register!

November 3

  • Easton, MD: Oyster season is here, and whether or not you're a fan of eating the Bay's beloved bivalve, you've probably noticed a growing number of farmed oyster varieties available in local seafood markets and restaurants on the Eastern Shore. This is a sure sign that oyster farming, also known as "aquaculture," is on the rise in Maryland. Join us for a forum on this rising trend to learn more about oyster aquaculture from experts in the field. The event is free, but click here to register!

November 5

  • Smithsburg, MD: Join CBF at this recently completed stream restoration project on Little Antietam Creek and help us with the final stages of restoring the stream banks and floodplain. Volunteers will install live stakes consisting of willow cuttings as well as native trees and shrubs.  Learn about stream restoration techniques used throughout the region by touring this recently completed project and lend your hand for the final touches. Click here to register!

November 6

  • Annapolis, MD: Join approximately 25,000 runners and walkers crossing the 4.35-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge as part of the third annual Across the Bay 10k. The dual-span bridge doesn’t allow pedestrian traffic at any other time of the year, so this is a unique opportunity—and the view is amazing! CBF is an official charity partner of the Across the Bay 10k and we are excited to offer Charity Bibs as part of that partnership. It's a win-win...you get a guaranteed entry into the race and help save the Bay with a donation to CBF! Get your charity bib now!

November 12

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Volunteer with CBF at Calypso Bar & Grill! We will be celebrating our favorite bivalve, the oyster, with an oyster roast. Volunteers are needed to help recycle the oyster shells, pour beverages, and take tickets. A portion of the proceeds will help CBF in its work to save the Bay! To volunteer, please email or call Tanner Council at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Photo of the Week: Only God Paints This

JoelThiess
Just thought I'd share this fall sunset picture with you. Tide reflection in our yard down Tylerton, Smith Island.

Absolutely beautiful. Only God can paint this!

—Joel Thiess

Ensure that Joel and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


Photo of the Week: Outrunning the Storm

BrookOndich

This was on the Severn River, exiting Round Bay, trying to outrun the storm.

The Chesapeake has always been a source of inspiration for me. I grew up on Cattail Creek in Severna Park and always loved the water. We would swim in the creeks and at Sandy Point as kids. I will always remember loving every second of it. That childhood love of the Bay inspired me enough to join the USCG in 1996, so I could always be on the water, any water! Even though it almost got me killed, more than a few times.

I left the Coast Guard after more than 18 years of service at several Search and Rescue Stations on the West and East Coasts, including a four-year tour at the National Motor Lifeboat School at Cape Disappointment, Washington. I live back in Annapolis now and make a living as a boat mechanic. I'm still on the water everyday and couldn't be happier!

—Brook Ondich

Ensure that Brook and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


Photo of the Week: Fading Late Summer Sunset

EdwardMorgan
I took this picture on Tuesday evening, September 20, on Spa Creek in Eastport/Annapolis. The Chesapeake creates lasting memories, and for these folks—the memory of a fading late summer sunset will no doubt carry them through the winter.

—Ted Morgan

Ensure that Ted and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!