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February 2012

January 2012

Save the Males?

BluecrabdnrSave the males?  

Adult female blue crabs far outnumber males in the Chesapeake Bay. The large imbalance is a recent development caused by humans, according to Dr. Tuck Hines, Director of the Smithsonian Environmetnal Research Center.

Ever since Maryland and Virginia imposed restrictions on catching females three years ago to stop overharvesting, the number of blue crabs in the Bay has grown by more than 60 percent.  But a side-effect of this good news is that adult females now outnumber males by a three to one ratio, Hines said.

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Citizens Stand Up for Clean Water

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The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) announced its fourth annual list of the South’s most endangered places last week. The list included the Chesapeake Bay.

“For decades the Bay has suffered from pollution from all sides—air, land, and water. Unfortunately, industry interests and their political allies are doing all they can to impede a comprehensive rescue plan,” said SELC, the largest environmental advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the Southeast.

Who is trying to impede Bay restoration? For starters, the American Farm Bureau Federation and a host of national agricultural lobbying groups -- The Fertilizer Institute, National Pork Producers Council, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Chicken Council, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, and the National Turkey Federation -- are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the federal-state cleanup initiative. Also suing to stop Bay cleanup is the “voice of the housing industry,” the National Home Builders Association.

But it’s not just the Bay under attack, SELC noted. “Many of the areas on SELC’s Top 10 list are endangered by pressure to undercut environmental protections and to lower the hurdles for potentially destructive projects, whether it’s fracking in the North Carolina Piedmont, uranium mining in Virginia, or deepwater drilling in the Gulf.”

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Legislative Summit for Bay

SunriseWith a state legislative session underway in Maryland that is critically important to meeting new Chesapeake Bay pollution limits, friends of the Bay are holding their annual Legislative Summit at 5 p.m. today in Annapolis.   High on the agenda are much-needed funding for sewage plant upgrades and projects to reduce polluted runoff, as well as legislation that would better regulate construction of large new subdivisions on septic systems in rural areas.

Legislative support is needed to continue progress with cleaning up the Bay through the Maryland’s plan to meet new pollution limits (also called the Bay Total Maxiumum Daily Load, or TMDL).  “Maryland has crafted a good plan to sustain our momentum.  Now lawmakers must do the right thing to ensure the plan goes into action,” said Kim Coble, Vice President for Policy and Restoration of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. 

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Police Deploy Sonar and Radar to Stop Poaching

Inspecting boatIt’s a gray and frigid winter morning on the Chesapeake Bay, and a Maryland Natural Resource Police boat is out patrolling for illegal nets, using a new high-tech sonar system in its hunt.

Last winter, police found more than five miles of illegal nets filled with more than 12 tons of striped bass.

“It matters because the striped bass are a protected resource,” said Corporal Roy Rafter, as he stood in the patrol boat, near a screen with electronic images of the Bay’s bottom.  “Striped bass are a migratory fish, and this happens to be their spawning ground.  We have an obligation to make sure that this fish gets safely through this area and into other areas.”

SonarThe poaching incidents last January and February sparked heightened vigilance among Maryland officials, who purchased new side-scan sonar systems for police boats to detect illegal nets.  The Maryland General Assembly passed laws last year that increase penalties for poaching to $25,000; allow the state to revoke commercial fishing licenses more easily; and allow officers to search the cabins and compartments of fishing boats without probable cause. New regulations require commercial fishermen to put their license numbers on all nets.

Police are now using these powers for the first time.

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Citizens Aren’t Waiting on Politicians for Clean Water

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Call it Occupy the Bay if you will, but citizens around the Chesapeake Bay watershed are getting together to take ownership of clean water and Bay restoration.

In Virginia alone, hundreds of clean-water advocates are rolling up their sleeves and volunteering to help clean up local waterways themselves instead of waiting for local, state, or federal officials to decide what to do. It’s almost as if these “can do” citizens are weary of “can’t do” politicians who say the time isn't right to clean up the Bay.

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64 Percent Willing to Pay More "Flush Fee" to Clean Up Bay

NasaimageofbayWould you be willing to pay a few dollars more every month -– perhaps the price of a Subway sandwich and a soda -- to keep sewage out of the streams where your children play?
 
I would.  And a new poll finds that about two thirds of my neighbors would, too. Sixty-four percent of Marylanders say they are willing to pay more into the state’s Bay Restoration Fund (also known as the “flush-fee”) to finish upgrading sewage treatment plants and reduce stormwater pollution into the Chesapeake, according to a December 11-15 poll of 801 Maryland residents by Opinion Works Research and Communications of Annapolis.
 
Right now, the “flush fee” is $2.50 per household per month. The fund, created by the Maryland General Assembly in 2004, has done a tremendous amount to reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, paying to upgrade 23 sewage treatment plants so far.  But the fund is now facing a future $385 million shortfall if it is going to meet its mission of improving all 67 major sewage treatment plants across the state, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

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Rays Gobbled Up in "Endangered Species Soup"

Manta raysA new report describes how manta rays are being decimated worldwide because of a growing market in selling their gills to Chinese markets for their alleged medicinal value.

 “Endangered species soup,” was how one conservationist described it.

The report, by a nonprofit organization called Shark Savers, describes what makes rays -– in the Pacific Ocean or here in the Chesapeake Bay -- so vulnerable to overharvesting:  This primitive shark-like creatures with their kite-shaped bodies reproduce very slowly, with each female only giving birth to a few pups.   Killing manta rays (and their cousins, mobula rays) for their gills is a double tragedy, because there is no evidence that their soup actually has any medicinal value, and because rays are more valuable left in the wild. They are not only ecologically valuable, but also economically valuable, because their beauty is attractive to divers, and helps boost the diving and ecotourism industries, according to the Shark Savers report.

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3-Minute Video Packs Big Punch


For a quick and inspiring lesson in how different communities of interests can work together for clean water, take a look at this 3-minute video.

It features a Shenandoah Valley (Virginia) farmer with a problem creek running through his farm, a couple of Chesapeake Bay Foundation conservation experts, and scores of community volunteers pitching in to make a difference.

Like every story, of course, this one is more complex and involves many more players than this video snippet can show, but the basic message is simple: farmers, conservationists, government, and citizens can work together to improve their communities.

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Chesapeake News and Events

MDstatehouse

On Wednesday, both the Virginia and Maryland General Assemblies opened session for 2012.  In Maryland, the top priorities for the Clean Water Healthy Families Coalition include funding for sewage plant upgrades and stormwater system improvements.  In addition, limiting pollution from septic systems is critical.  All these steps will help Maryland meet the new Chesapeake pollution limits, also known as the TMDL.  To learn more, click here.

To read about key issues in Virginia, click here. 

In other Bay news…  

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Offshore Wind: Supported by Public, but Undermined by Drilling

WindturbinesoceanNearly two thirds of Maryland voters polled support the construction of offshore wind power, even if it means paying a dollar or two more per month, according to a new survey released today by advocates of an offshore wind farm east of Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The question of whether Maryland’s utilities should help subsidize the construction of a billion-dollar-plus offshore wind farm will be one of the subjects debated in the General Assembly session that starts today in Annapolis.

Although public support for offshore wind appears strong, the economics of this kind of development  -– which would be the first offshore wind farm in America –- is fragile, in part because of competition from natural gas.

More than 3,000 gas wells have been drilled over the last five years in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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