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June 2009

Guilty Plea In Major Fish Poaching Case

Kalbird11 In case you missed it, here’s an update on what authorities say was the largest striped bass poaching case in Chesapeake Bay history.

A fish seller from St. Mary’s County, Maryland, pleaded guilty recently in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to interstate trafficking in illegal fish and falsifying catch reports, according to The Baltimore Sun and Associated Press.

Robert Lumpkins, of Golden Eye Seafood in Piney Point, now faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each of four charges. Lumpkins admitted that from 2003 to 2007, while acting as a commercial check station for the state Department of Natural Resources, he and his employees falsely recorded the amount of striped bass, or rockfish, that fishermen caught, according to the news reports.

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Bill Would Strengthen Federal Hand in Bay Cleanup

Kalbird1 Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia deserves praise for his recent introduction of legislation that would strengthen the role of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and restoring native oysters.

The Chesapeake Bay Science, Education and Ecosystem Enhancement Act of 2009 is worth highlighting in part because it is Senator Warner’s first major action to help save the Bay since taking office in January. Warner, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over NOAA and this bill, was joined in support by Senator Jim Webb from Virginia and Senators Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin from neighboring Maryland.

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Deadliest Catch for Wildlife? Cigarette Butts and Plastic Bags

Kalbird5 Put this in your pipe and smoke it: New research suggests cigarette butts can kill fish.
The non-biodegradable and perhaps toxic properties of cigarette filters are just another reason to toss your pack of cigarettes – in the waste basket, of course, not overboard. They're a blight on human health and a drag for wildlife, too.

San Diego State University researcher Richard Gersberg recently published a report that showed that the chemicals in a single cigarette butt can poison fish in a one-liter bucket of water.

Granted, a liter is a drop in the ocean in terms of volume.  But apparently, there are quite a few cigarette butts floating around out there.  According to the an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, an estimated 1.69 billion pounds (845,000 tons) of butts wind up as litter worldwide per year.

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Heads Roll in a Planning Department, Protections Fall

Dozer In rapidly developing areas, the local planning department is often the thin blue line between healthy growth and rampant sprawl that destroys a community’s natural resources.

That’s why it’s deeply troubling that Worcester County, Maryland – home to Ocean City and the beautiful but fragile coastal bays west of Assateague Island – recently laid off 11 employees, all in the areas of planning, development review, environmental review and permitting.

Something is clearly going on here, and it is not good news for protecting our forests, streams and bays.

Times are hard, and many governments are being forced to cut their budgets. But what’s disturbing about these layoffs is that they were all focused in one area of government -- keeping development in check -- and were not necessary to balance the budget, according to county officials.

“That gives me heartburn,” Worcester County Commissioner Judy Boggs told Bay Daily. “The budget was balanced, and I was against laying off those people…. Worcester County has a 15 percent unemployment rate. And we are going to lay off people, and add to that?”

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Save This Landscape

Davidson Folks sometimes think: The Bay is a lost cause. It’s too far gone -- too polluted, too exploited. Well, if this is you, I urge you to watch this slide show that The Washington Post put together in collaboration with photographer Cameron Davidson. He captured these dazzling and inspiring aerial images during more than a decade of flying over the Chesapeake.  You will see: there is still so much incredible beauty that we absolutely must fight to preserve.

(Photo of Chesapeake Bay inlets on Maryland's Eastern Shore by Cameron Davidson. Image used with permission).

EPA Bay Czar Aims to Restrict Fertilizer Pollution

Kalbird1 The new EPA Bay Czar says the federal government will soon take “bold action” to strengthen regulations to reduce polluted runoff from farm fields and developed areas.

During an interview on WYPR 88.1 FM public radio in Baltimore, Chuck Fox, senior advisor to EPA Administrator on the Bay, said the federal agency “right now” is looking at what steps it will take to comply with a May 12 presidential executive order to increase federal action to clean up the Bay.

“There are two or three key sources that we are going to really look at how we are going to improve pollution controls very dramatically, and this includes agricultural operations, some with animals, some without animals, as well as municipal urban and suburban runoff pollution,” Fox told radio host Dan Rodricks.  “These sectors present probably the biggest challenges, and there is no way we are going to succeed in saving this Bay unless we do have bold action.”

It was an informative show for anyone trying to get a sense of the direction of the Obama administration’s environmental policies. You can listen to it by clicking here and scrolling down to the June 1 program.

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A Shock Boat Expedition for an Elusive Fish

Shockboat I sprang up at 4 a.m. today to go “shock boat” fishing on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with three biologists who are studying a mysteriously declining fish species, the American shad.

It was an electrifying experience.   A “shock boat” – also known as a Model SR-18-E Electrofishing Workboat – is a motorboat with two long arms on its bow that dangle metal squid-like clusters of wires into the water. A gas-powered generator sends 1000 volts of electricity into the river.

As the Maryland Department of Natural Resources research vessel cruised slowly down the mist-shrouded Choptank River, scores of fish were temporarily dazed, and floated, flipped, swirled or thrashed to the surface. The jolt was too mild to kill the fish.  But it was quite effective in allowing the biologists to get a good look at them, and count and study the American shad.

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What Kind of Green Will Grow from GM Bankruptcy?

Highway All of us own the GM bankruptcy issue, because the company’s reorganization plan calls for U.S. taxpayers to own most of the stock in the car maker.

So now the question for us owners is: Will GM bankrupt the environment as it tries to fight its way back into profitability?

This is not an academic issue for those of us living in the Chesapeake Bay region, because between a quarter and a third of the nitrogen pollution causing “dead zones” in the Bay is from air pollution, much of it from the burning of oil and other fossil fuels. Larger and more inefficient vehicles tend to produce more air pollution.

What struck me most about the environmental impact of the bankruptcy was a graphic that ran in The New York Times.  The chart showed that, as recently as 1985, GM sold more than twice as many cars as “light trucks” (including SUVs and pickups). But that pattern had reversed itself by 2003, with the company selling roughly twice as many of these gas-guzzling big vehicles as cars.

Since then, of course, sales of GM SUVs and other light trucks have plummeted – taking an especially hard drop last year, when gasoline prices soared.

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Deadline Pushed Back for Decision on Wetlands Destruction

Mattawomanwatershed Today (June 1) was supposed to be the deadline for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to make a decision on whether to grant a permit to allow the destruction of wetlands in Southern Maryland so that Charles County could build a highway across Mattawoman Creek, an important fish breeding ground.

But MDE said this afternoon that it is granting a six month extension, until December 1, 2009, for the decision on the Charles County Cross County Connector road project.

It’s good that the MDE is looking long and hard at into this ill-advised highway project, which could spark sprawl development and the construction of more than 1,100 homes in largely wooded area and contribute polluted runoff into the creek.  But perhaps it’s time for the state just to say no.  More blacktop would only mean more oil, sediment and nitrogen pollution being flushed by rain into a fragile waterway, and that would mean less life for the Chesapeake Bay.

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