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Should Virginia Secede from the Menhaden Union?

The following story appeared in the Bay Journal News Service.
Menhaden.JPGWatermen pull in another catch of menhaden. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff.

Secession is in the air once again in Virginia as a state senator has introduced a bill that would withdraw the commonwealth from the union of states that oversees fishery management along the coast.

Virginia State Senator Richard Stuart’s bill would separate Virginia from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a consortium of states from Maine to Florida that oversees the management and harvest of 24 species of fish ranging from flounder to stripers. Among those fish is the menhaden, a baitfish that is an essential part of the food chain for game fish and whose population most commissioners (and conservationists) believe may be threatened by overfishing.

[Stuart, whose] district includes the East Coast’s largest menhaden fishing port, seems not so sure.

In Boston in late 2011, the ASMFC commissioners voted overwhelmingly to curtail commercial landings of menhaden by as much as 37 percent over 2010 harvest levels. This marked the first time the ASMFC has voted to decrease the menhaden harvest. Why the change? The commission’s most recent stock assessment found that  menhaden stocks, in steady decline for the past half-century, were now at a historic low, and that although menhaden are apparently producing enough eggs to supplement the stock, those eggs are not becoming juvenile menhaden, much to the consternation of researchers.

Conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy and consortia like the Menhaden Coalition, and the Herring Alliance—as well as groups of recreational anglers like Menhaden Defenders—have for years lobbied for more conservative menhaden harvest levels. They believe that the current commercial harvest levels could push the stock past the point of no return, which would affect countless species of fish and sea birds.

Senator Stuart disagrees: “I think the environmental community has lobbied the ASMFC so much, they have abandoned their own science.”

Stuart defended his proposed legislation, saying, “I drafted my bill to demonstrate to the ASMFC that Virginia will not tolerate ignoring the best available data on menhaden. According to ASMFC’s own science, the coastal population of menhaden is healthy.”

Stuart also believes that “the recent decision by the ASMFC in Boston to curtail menhaden harvest so drastically reveals that some states are cutting back Virginia’s menhaden harvest to bolster their own populations.”

Is Stuart correct in his assertions? And should Virginia leave the ASMFC?

First, the science to which the senator refers may be found in the ASMFC management plan—but it never describes the menhaden stock as “healthy.” And indeed, the stock has never been lower than it is right now. Second, the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (1993) stipulates that Virginia will still have to abide by the ASMFC’s menhaden management plan even if it withdraws from the commission. Further, should Virginia voluntarily withdraw from the ASMFC, other member states could decide to redistribute Virginia’s harvest quotas among themselves.

Let us assume that the Virginia legislature passes Stuart’s bill into law. What’s next? Initially the ASMFC would undoubtedly attempt to bring Virginia into compliance. And if the Old Dominion refused? The ASMFC could ask the US Secretary of Commerce to shut down the Virginia menhaden fishery completely, spelling disaster for the Commonwealth’s economy and marking the end of Virginia’s commercial menhaden fishery. For obvious reasons, no state has yet withdrawn from the ASMFC.

Without a doubt, Senator Stuart has a vested interest in opposing the ASMFC’s latest moves on menhaden: His district includes Reedville, home to Omega Protein’s East Coast operations. Omega is North America’s largest commercial menhaden harvester. (Editor's Note: Senator Stuart represents the 28th District which, following redistricting in 2011, no longer includes Reedville.) 

It doesn’t follow, however, that Stuart is an enemy of waterway conservation: Rather, Stuart is and has always been an avid sportsman whose actions demonstrate that he cares deeply for Virginia’s natural resources. He recently led the charge, for example, to pass legislation to significantly decrease phosphorus in fertilizers, which fuels the ominous “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay. Indeed, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation honored him as the 2011 Virginia Legislator of the Year in recognition of this work. 

It is never easy to represent conflicting interests, and it’s usually impossible to please all interested parties. Senator Stuart represents a district that cannot be happy about the ASMFC’s latest actions on menhaden. But in this case, it’s hard to see how his proposed legislation can do anything but exacerbate the inevitable pain that Virginia’s commercial menhaden fishery foresees. He could win this battle with his bold volley—but Virginia will end up losing the war.  

—Beau Beasley

Beau Beasley is an award-winning conservation writer and the author of Fly Fishing Virginia and Fly Fishing the Mid-Atlantic. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

To learn more, read our menhaden blog series.

Photo of the Week: Smith Island Crab Floats

_MG_0050Photo by John Werry.

"I took the photo of the floats in July of this year as I walked around Ewell, Smith Island. I was in the process of adding to my inventory of photos for an upcoming Chesapeake Bay photography book and knew that I had to capture them. I'd come across floats for 40 years, but never in a pile of this size.

I've been away from the Bay now for a few months (moved recently to South Carolina), and I keep having pangs of withdrawal as I run into pictures of the Bay from time to time. I plan to visit at least once a year as we still have good friends in Tilghman, Maryland."

—John Werry

View more of Werry's works here:


Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Photo of the Week: Where in the World Is Save the Bay Now?

Photo1All photos by Miriam McCullough.

This week the  Chesapeake Bay Foundation's "Save the Bay" sticker went on a trip to the City of Light where she indulged in "A Moveable Feast" about town. Can you guess where she is? Alas, are you STILL having trouble? The following two photos should help...


Are you going on any trips in the near future? "Save the Bay" is on a quest to travel the world! So bring your sticker with you on your journeys. When you return, send us your digital photos of "Save the Bay" in front of different notable (or even not-so notable) scenes across your city, county, country, and worldNo place is too small or too ordinary, even your own backyard will do! If you don't have a sticker, e-mail CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] We look forward to hearing and seeing your travel stories!

Making a commitment to job growth means making a commitment to nature

OMalley All images and audio by Meghan Hoffman/CBF Staff.

Earlier today, Governor Martin O’Malley announced his proposal to contribute nearly $23 million in funding for Maryland’s state parks and other public lands this year. “We're very blessed to live in a state that has such natural beauty,” he said, “and our parks are not only tremendous assets for our quality of life--opportunities for all of us to get in touch with nature, opportunities for us to be able to raise our children with the love and respect for god's creation--but it also points to a critically important need that we have in the United States and in each of the states and that is to create jobs.” With 11 million annual visitors to Maryland State Parks and roughly $650 million generated from them each year, these parks are, as O’Malley rightfully called them, “a tremendous economic engine.”

This is not the first time that nature—whether in the form of state parks or the environment as a whole—has been credited with spurring job growth and the economy. The governor’s announcement comes on the heels of an investigative report we released just last week, explaining how environmental standards actually encourage—not discourage—job growth across the Bay region. Read the full Debunking the "Job Killer" Myth: How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region report here.    

Listen to Gov. O’Malley’s entire announcement, wind and all, here:


—Emmy Nicklin


Join the discussion!


What do you environmental regulations help or hurt job growth?

Join us today at 12:30 p.m. for a Facebook Wall Chat discussion on CBF's latest investigative report, Debunking the Job Myth: How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region. Senior writer and author of the report Tom Pelton will answer your questions and engage in further discussion. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

What: Jobs Report Wall Chat
When: Tuesday, January 10, 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
Where: CBF's Facebook Page

Read the report here for more information:



In case you missed it...The Wall Chat Recapped:

LIVE CHAT ON JOBS AND ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS. Do environmental regulations really hurt the economy? Or is this just a myth being repeated to derail pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere? Hello, Facebook friends! I am Tom Pelton, senior writer for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and author of the report "Debunking the Job Killer Myth" linked above. Give me your thoughts and questions on this hotly-debated subject, and I will be glad to answer then in real time.

 CBF: The subject attracted a lot of heated comments -- both pro and con -- yesterday on our Facebook page. There is a huge gap between the rhetoric about an alleged "tidal wave" of new environmental regulations, and the reality -- with government data showing no surge in regulations, and regulations causing no net loss of jobs to the economy. Why does this subject make so many people angry?

William: In this time of a stagent economic recovery, why should there be further environmental regulations? How could further environmental regulations help the overall economic recovery and job growth?

CBF: Thanks for the question, William. Economist Dr. Eban Goodstein and others have concluded that, during economic downturns, spending money on environmental projects, like fixing up sewage plants and building stormwater pollution control projects, can actually create jobs by putting people to work on enterprises that improve the public health. Our report estimated that more than 178,000 construction jobs could be created in the Bay region on stormwater system improvements alone. Tom Pelton

Jim: i understand regulation is important from an environmental point of view but i can't wrap my head around how regulations will create jobs. can you explain the economics?

CBF: Jim, the concept is that regulations can push companies to invest in their own plants and workers in the local economy, instead of on CEO bonuses or Wall Street maneuvering. For example the 2006 Maryland Healthy Air Act compelled Constellation Energy to build nearly a billion dollars worth of air pollution control equipment at its Brandon Shores coal-fired power plant. And the new equipment (including a "scrubber") forced the power plant to increase its employment by about 25 percent to run and monitor the scrubber. Tom Pelton

Will: While jobs can be created through environmental projects, have there been any studies or conclusions regarding the net impact on jobs or the economy? I assume that many businesses might be negatively impacted as well...

CBF: Another follow-up to William's question: Some folks might wonder: Why create Chesapeake Bay pollution limits now, during an economic downturn? The reality is that the federal Clean Water Act requiring pollution limits for the Bay and other bodies of water (called a Total Maximum Daily Load) was passed in the 1970s, and it has just taken the federal and state governments a long time to finally get them to get around to doing their jobs. The Bay area states in 2010 submitted plans to comply with these pollution limits. But these state plans were based on previous Bay cleanup plans called Tributary Strategies that were released in 2004 and 2005. So the Bay pollution limits are not really new...and they did not appear suddenly during the economic downturn. The limits represent obligations to make our waters swimmable and fishable that date back many years. Tom Pelton

In response to William's second question: The CBF report contains several examples of economic studies on the impacts of regulations on the economy. One example: Dr. Roger Bezdek examined the relationship of environmental protections to the economy and concluded: “While environmental protection both creates and displaces jobs, we have found the net jobs effect to be strongly positive.” (Source: Roger H. Bezdek, Robert M. Wendling and Paula DiPierna, “Environmental Protection, the Economy, and Jobs: National and Reginal Analyses,” Journal of Environmental Management,
January 17, 2007, page 1.)

Anne: Can you give us some hard and fast evidence of how environmental regulations may actually create jobs?

CBF: Thanks for the question, Anne. In Fairfax County, Virginia, 118 construction workers -- some of them formerly unemployed home builders -- are hard at work right now on a $63 million project to reduce pollution from the Noman Cole sewage treatment plant in Lorton. This project is happening -- and these people are working -- because of Bay pollution limits. Across Maryland and Virginia, as many as 60,000 construction and engineering jobs are projected to grow from projects to improve sewage plants to meet the Bay pollution limits. Tom Pelton

More information for Anne on specific examples: In Montgomery County Maryland right now, the county is creating jobs for about 3,300 construction workers, engineers, supervisors and others to build stormwater control systems to meet Bay pollution limits. One of the private companies working on these projects, Angler Environmental, said his company boosted its employment by 12 percent, hiring 10 additional workers just to keep up with Montgomery County's efforts to meet the new Bay pollution limits. "This really creates jobs for us," said Mike Peny, Construction Division Manager for Angler Environmental, Inc. "These types of projects are what drive our ability to hire and stay in business." (This quote comes from the CBF report) Tom Pelton

Another example: Dr. Eban Goodstein Director, Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College, wrote: “Virtually all economists
who have studied this jobs-environment issue agree....
There has simply been no trade-offs between jobs
and the environment. ” (Source: Eban Goodstein, The Trade Off-Myth: Fact and Fiction about Jobs and the Environment, Island
Press, Washington, D.C., pages 1-7.) Tom Pelton

Carol: Maybe some of the anger over this is issue is based on who is benefiting from these new regulations (job-wise) as well as why they are needed in the first place. Traditional occupations are diminishing as is the rural character of places like the Eastern Shore. Young people who used to make a living working on the water now have options like working at Panera Bread or the new Olive Garden. It's hard to see that as progress.

CBF: Thanks, Carol. The people who are benefitting the most financially from the Chesapeake Bay pollution limits are construction workers, engineers, designers, plumbers, laborers and others who are being paid to rebuild and improve sewage treatment plants and construct stormwater pollution control systems. You mention the fate of watermen. Watermen will certainly lose their jobs if water quality in the Bay is so poor that the oysters, fish and crabs they depend on cannot live -- or if these living resources are overharvested. Bay pollution limits are critical for the economic health of watermen, and they benefit greatly from them. Tom Pelton

Carol: I understand your point of view but think my point is also valid. There are fewer traditional rural jobs and that speaks, in large part, to the continued rapid development of this area which is clearly linked to environmental degradation and the loss of a way of life. The explosion of environmental non-profits in recent years also creates jobs but they are of a different sort, and employ different people, than the farmers and watermen who've historically dominated this region. Thus the tension and anger you alluded to earlier.

CBF: I agree with you completely that overly rapid, poorly-planned development in rural areas is a terrible problem. Nobody wants to see chain store, strip mall jobs replace the jobs of watermen and farmers. For this reason, we need regulations and programs that protect agricultural areas from suburban sprawl, and reduce pollution in the Bay, so that watermen and farmers can thrive. Tom Pelton

Photo of the Week: New Year's Day Sunset

NewYearsSunsetPhoto by Albert Butzer.

"This is the view across Willoughby Bay to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. There are at least two aircraft carriers in port, home from service around the world.

I first fell in love with the Chesapeake when we moved to Fairfax, Virginia, and had our boat shipped from Chicago to Parrish Creek off the West River. For 13 years, we sailed the northern Bay and anchored in countless beautiful creeks, among them, Harness Creek, Dividing Creek, Mill Creek, Gibson Island off the Magothy River, St. Michaels, La Trappe Creek near Oxford, and of course, Spa Creek.

In 2007, we relocated to Norfolk, Virginia and sailed our boat south to Hampton, Virginia, where we are still exploring the wonders of the southern Bay. Every day on the way to and from work, I drive across the Lesner Bridge in Virginia Beach and have a beautiful view of the Bay, with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in the distance. Sometimes the Bay is as smooth as a baby's bottom, and at other times it is a kick in the pants. Every day is different, and every day is a joy and a blessing!"

—Albert Butzer

To view more of Albert Butzer's photographs, please visit his website or Flickr account.


Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Can the long view include septic tanks?

The following story appeared in the Bay Journal News Service.

SewageTreatmentFacilityA Baltimore County, Maryland, sewage treatment facility reduces nitrogen from wastewater. Photo by Garth Lenz.

Don’t be surprised if longtime poop warriors along the Chesapeake Bay’s thickly populated Western Shore are not sympathetic to claims that builders in still rural parts of the watershed should have unlimited use of septic tanks.

Those backyard sewage disposal devices send pollutants into the ground where it can leach into waterways and sometimes drinking water supplies. In Maryland, at least, they are the fastest growing source of Bay pollution, so the long practice of one-by-one septic tank approvals, common throughout the Bay area, doesn’t make sense to those at the cleanup end.

“What we really need to be doing is taking a much more holistic view of the complete picture,” said Ronald Bowen, public works director for Anne Arundel County in Maryland. “How is it we can continue to co-exist, continue to grow economically, while at the same time working toward addressing the sins of the past?”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is waging an uphill battle to curb the use of septic tanks for new development, uses the county’s plight to make his case. He says the sorry state of Anne Arundel’s dirty rivers—where nearly one third of the pollution comes from septic tanks—provides a powerful warning to still pristine areas.

“That’s the future of this Chesapeake Bay if we don’t get a handle on the proliferation of massive septic housing developments,” O’Malley told reporters last week. “The chunk of pollution that will come from a growing population increasingly relying on septic systems, rather than waste water treatment plants, will outstrip the progress that we are making in other areas.”

To meet federal Bay pollution cleanup requirements, Bowen proposes to retire half of the 40,000 septic tanks serving homes along his county’s 530 miles of sensitive shoreline. The price tag of $760 million includes several techniques, such as the creation of new cluster treatment plants that serve only one community.

Bowen also needs $270 million to upgrade the county’s seven sewage treatment plants, and more than $1 billion to restore stream beds and otherwise deal with storm water runoff. Altogether, that’s almost twice the annual county budget. Like most other watershed counties with similar needs, Anne Arundel doesn’t have the money.

O’Malley hopes to help local governments meet at least some of these costs by persuading the state legislature to raise the “flush tax” on sewer and septic users. 

Of course, no one’s happy about tax or fee increases. But proposed curbs on septic tank use are also drawing fire for a different reason. Rural legislators assert their constituents have a right to seek profits from land development. They contend that curbs on septic tanks are a backdoor tactic to serve another O’Malley goal—limiting growth. 

Those legislators don’t seem troubled by the environmental damage that results from continued rural development and a reliance on septic tanks. Nor do they seem concerned that every taxpayer will share in the price of roads, schools, and the other services new development needs.

It’s easy to understand the complaint of Bayside homeowners with failing septic systems who are suddenly confronted with a bill of $20,000 or more to connect to a sewer system or put in a new, state-of-the-art septic tank. But remember, the cost of septic tank pollution to the rest of us in terms of harmful bacteria in the water supply—we’re talking about us now, not fish—is perhaps beyond calculation.

“If we want to continue the quality of life we have here…it’s going to be more expensive,” said Robert Summers, Maryland’s secretary of the environment. But without a clean water supply, “we have no economy.”

Like Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania both have programs to encourage property owners to upgrade their septic waste technology to the newest nitrogen and phosphorus removing systems.

“I think it’s momentous,” said Allen Knapp, director of onsite sewage and water services for the Virginia Department of Health. “Instead of just issuing permits, we are now trying to achieve a potential outcome: a cleaner environment.”

But Maryland is the most densely populated of the Bay watershed states, and seems to have made the most use of septic systems to serve summer cottages and now mini-mansions along the Bay.

“There is nothing easy about what we’re trying to [do],” Bowen said.

So, that’s the dilemma. Most of us are selfish and short-sighted. We want what we want right now and choose not to think about the future. But just for the sake of argument, wouldn’t it be a lot better to avoid the problem while we still can than to expect future generations to try to fix it?

Maybe that’s too much to ask.

—Karen Hosler

Karen Hosler, former editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun, is a reporter, commentator, and talk show host in Baltimore. Distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.

Photo of the Week: Sunrise Over Swan Creek

SwanCreekSunrise_enPhoto by Ron Landon

"[This] is an early November sunrise over the Swan Creek Marina (next to us) in Rock Hall. While we get many spectacular sunsets there, this is the most gorgeous sunrise that I have ever seen . . . anywhere."  

Ron Landon

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!