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October 2012
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December 2012

More Menhaden, More Bait, More Jobs

The following op-ed appeared in The Roanoke Times earlier this week. 

Menhaden photoThe next few months will be crucial for Atlantic menhaden, a small, silvery fish vital to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Coast. Also called pogie, fatback, and bunker, menhaden have been dubbed "the most important fish in the sea" because of their critical ecological and economic roles.

Menhaden are a major food source for striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, summer flounder, dolphin, whales, ospreys, loons, and pelicans. They are also the target of Virginia’s largest fishery, based in Reedville, that catches and converts menhaden to fish meal and oil. Menhaden are also harvested for bait to catch blue crabs and a variety of sport fish.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a partnership of coastal states from Maine to Florida, is considered the unbiased arbiter of menhaden science along the Atlantic Coast. In 2010 and 2012, the commission published stock assessments of the menhaden population that raise very troubling issues and indicate the need for greater conservation of menhaden.

Both ASMFC's 2010 and 2012 assessments clearly showed the menhaden population at or near all-time lows, or about eight percent of what an unfished population would be. Also, the number of young fish entering the population each year has remained remarkably low for nearly 20 years, a serious sign the population is not healthy.

The menhaden fishing industry has questioned ASMFC's science and consistently denied that menhaden are in trouble. ASMFC's peer-reviewed data, however, paint a much different picture, showing the population is experiencing overfishing and has been for at least 32 of the past 54 years.

The industry also contends menhaden numbers today are the same as 50 years ago, implying all is well, but neglecting that 50 years ago the population had plummeted and was declared overfished.

Finally, the industry uses the threat of massive job losses to argue against harvest reductions. However, there once were numerous menhaden industrial plants up and down the East Coast, employing thousands of workers. Today, with menhaden numbers the lowest on record, those fisheries have severely contracted. The Reedville plant is the only one left.

Is maintaining the status quo really the best course for the industry? In the long term, conserving menhaden will restore jobs, not destroy them.

Clearly, more aggressive steps must be taken to protect the menhaden population to enhance both the coastal ecosystem and menhaden-related jobs. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation calls upon the ASMFC to produce a robust menhaden conservation plan when it meets on Dec. 14, and for the Virginia General Assembly to approve its implementation during its 2013 legislative session.

—Chris Moore
CBF's Hampton Roads Senior Scientist

Chesapeake Born: Bay Saving Lessons Learned, Looking Back

The below "Chesapeake Born" column appears monthly in the Bay Journal News Service.

Map2"Saving the Chesapeake Bay is a test; if we pass we get to keep the planet," wrote Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker in the foreword to a book I wrote about 20 years ago for CBF.

The Bay, on the doorstep of the nation's capital, polluted by all modern humans do, was as good a place as any to learn if humans could exist sustainably with the rest of nature.

What have we learned since that book, "Turning The Tide," was published in 1991? In a revised, 2003 edition I set out six "Lessons Learned" that looked back over the previous decade.

Then, the "lessons" seemed mostly that we still had a lot to learn.

Now it's two decades; time to revisit.

Myth of Voluntary: It was clear in 2003 that the voluntary nature of the Bay restoration was flawed. Our best successes had been the odd instances where we banned something, from using phosphate detergents to catching rockfish.

Only in the last few years was the voluntary model officially abandoned, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposing a mandatory pollution diet on the states.

The EPA's action "represents the biggest progress we've made in the last decade. . . goes far beyond what (EPA) has done anywhere else," said Roy Hoagland, a long-time top official of the Bay Foundation, now a private consultant.

It will be critical to further strengthen the EPA's hand, as local governments and states bridle at the costs of meeting water quality obligations, and as the Republican leadership in Congress vows to weaken the agency.

Accountability: Much positive has happened in the last decade or so—a science-based annual report card on the health of the Bay and tributaries from the University of Maryland; better defined goals for everything from oysters to open space; and the inclusion of air pollution as a significant impact on the Bay.

Agriculture, a leading source of Bay pollution, is becoming more accountable, though this remains a work in progress; a lesson not wholly learned.

Stormwater regulations have taken a leap forward, although the inspection and enforcement that will make them work lag badly.

Management of growth, Hoagland said, "continues to be our most miserable failure . . . we have yet to find the political will to control sprawl development."

All six states in the Bay watershed are now part of the restoration effort.

Leadership: Politics at the national level are even more partisan on the environment than they were during the 1990s—and even then environmentalists spent too much time playing defense when they needed progress.

Republican leadership is abysmal, environmentally. Democrats are better, but no longer pushed by Republicans to hold the line or improve. At state levels, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania have shifted back and forth among Democrat and Republican governors; and it was a Republican in Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, who gets credit for funding major sewage treatment upgrades.

A conclusion I made in 2003 rings even truer now: "The environmental community needs to rethink how to build a consensus for the Bay that reaches well beyond its own members." The environmental focus remains too narrow, too vulnerable to unfounded charges that it kills jobs and serves only an elite.

"As we go to press (in 1991) our optimism is tempered by an all-too predictable reaction to a faltering economy," Baker wrote. And in 2012 we still hear that the Bay must wait until the economy heals.

Money: We have spent billions on the Bay and need to spend more billions. But money, Hoagland stated, has not been the bottleneck stopping more progress.

He suggested it might become the bottleneck as we confront ever more expense with sewage and stormwater retrofits, where we are into areas of diminishing returns for our dollar.

We must look harder at removing taxpayer subsidies for growth and other activities that cost society money to offset their polluting effects, and also include the real costs of pollution in the prices we pay for doing business.

Maryland's Genuine Progress Indicator, a pilot program that subtracts environmental costs from economic growth, is a start on this.

Good Science: Science has led to better blue crab management; the use of cover crops to cut farm runoff; showed how development harms stream health, and led to (slowly) regulating manure to control phosphorus runoff.

But the EPA still lacks a coherent national policy on nitrogen, the Bay's main pollutant. Federal subsidies for ethanol from corn increase nitrogen runoff and don't reduce energy use. Nor is farm runoff elsewhere under federal scrutiny like here. Our agriculture needs a level playing field.

Defining Real Progress: We need "the guts to make fundamental changes," Baker wrote in 2003. In 2012, most progress still relies on tweaking technologies like sewage treatment, smokestack emissions and stormwater retention devices—all good, but avoid questions about limits to growth, or to diets that could reduce agricultural pollution dramatically.

Lessons learned? School's not over yet.

—Tom Horton

Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

Image: Courtesy of NASA.

Photo of the Week: Belle Isle in November

Photo(3)Photo by Sam Schneider.

A late fall afternoon at Belle Isle State Park on the Northern Neck of Virginia

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. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Giving Thanks to the Oyster

The following originally appeared on AnnapolisPatch yesterday.

OysterPhoto courtesy of Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

As our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and stuffing, it's appropriate to think of baby oysters.

If we relish the traditional oyster stuffing of the Chesapeake Bay region, or oysters on a half shell, we must ensure there are still oysters in the Bay.

To that end, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a larger coalition of groups called the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) are rebuilding and planting oyster reefs around the Bay.

During the 2012 season, this coalition of partners deployed 634 million spat on shell (baby oysters) in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay. In all, the coalition has planted nearly 4 billion oysters on 1,500 acres of oyster reefs!

Last week, CBF’s special oyster planting boat the Patricia Campbell could be seen adding oyster spat to Salt Works Creek on the Severn. About 500 bags of oyster shell with spat attached were deployed in the creek. That's about 450,000 baby oysters given a place to grow, and hopefully reproduce. Altogether, CBF planted about 1.7 million oysters this year at the one-acre oyster reef in Salt Works.

That is a relatively small number of oysters compared to the billions planted around the Bay. But every oyster helps. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.

CBF has a facility in Shady Side on the West River to grow oysters from larvae to one-year-old spat. The organization also uses a site in Mill Creek to store those juvenile oysters until they are deployed at an oyster reef. CBF staff and volunteers picked up spat at Shady Side and Mill Creek for the Salt Works Creek deployment Nov. 12.

But the oyster restoration effort also needs your help, especially securing old oyster shells. Young oysters need to attach themselves to existing shells. But shells are getting scarce. That’s where you come in.

CBF, ORP, and now Anne Arundel County run programs to collect oyster shells for re-use. Many shells come from restaurants. But individuals can contribute their leftovers (just shells please, no cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie!).

Here are links for information about where you can drop off your shells near Annapolis.

  • Anne Arundel County recycling convenience centers in Millersville, Glen Burnie and Sudley.
  • CBF’s Save Oyster Shell program
  • ORP’s collection sites near Annapolis are: 1) the Annapolis Maritime Museum, 723 2nd Street, Annapolis, 2) Oyster Recovery Partnership Office, 1805 Virginia Street, Annapolis, 3) W.H. Harris Seafood, 425 Kent Narrow Way North, Grasonville.

And of course to help oysters survive we also must reduce the pollution we discharge into local waters. That means pollution running off our landscape after storms, pollution from sewage plants and dirt from construction sites to name a few. It does no good to try to repopulate oysters if dirt washes into creeks, and covers up and kills the oyster beds.

And for anyone who actually wants help raise oysters from larvae to spat and has access to some waterfront, you might want to get involved in one of the several oyster gardening programs in the area.

Oysters taste better when we've helped ensure their future survival!

—Tom Zolper

What Are You Thankful For?

TikiThanksgivingIt's that time of year again: The time of sweet potatoes, turkey, and pecan pie!This week CBF staff celebrated with a potluck pre-Thanksgiving lunch yesterdayhighlights included oyster stuffing, lentil loaf, and every kind of pumpkin pie you could imagine.

Besides the glorious food, we were also thankful for the incredible efforts across the watershed that many of you have taken to clean up our Bay and its rivers and streams through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Never before have we come so close to restoring the waters we all love. Thank you. Now, let's finish the job!

Finally, as you get yourself in the mood for my personal favorite holiday of the year, check out this yummy butternut squash gratin recipe courtesy of chef Rita Calvert.


Butternut Squash Gratin With Local Goat Cheese and Pecans:
8 to 10 servings
Squash is often sold already peeled and seeded, making this recipe even easier.
-3 1/2 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium), peeled, seeded, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes (8 cups)
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-coarse kosher salt
-4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
-3 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
-1 1/ teaspoons chopped fresh sage
-5-ounces soft fresh goat cheese ( about 2/3 cup)
-1 cup heavy whipping cream
-1 teaspoon curry powder
-1/2 cup pecans coarsely chopped

DessertTableMelt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add sliced leeks and chopped sage; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender but not brown, about 15 minutes. Coat 11x7-inch baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Spread half of leek mixture over bottom of prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with half of squash and half of cheese. Repeat layering with leeks, squash, and cheese. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour cream mixed with curry powder evenly over gratin. Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Bake uncovered until gratin is heated through and cream is bubbling, about 30 minutes (40 minutes if previously chilled).

TO GO: This gratin is a good choice for transporting because it travels well. Either complete the dish at home (wrap it tightly to keep warm) or wait until you get to your destination to add the cream and nuts and then bake.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!     —Emmy Nicklin

(Photos: CBF's Tiki Thanksgiving celebration. By Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.)


Photo of the Week: Remembering Summer Sunsets

466892_10150954039359441_1913623954_oPhoto by Doug Edmunds.

"This is a photo I shot at the beginning of the summer of 2012. It is of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge taken from the banks of the Eastern Shore side. I grew up in Maryland and have been here my entire life along with my extended family. I have enjoyed all that the Bay has offered for many years including the wildlife, boating and fishing, spectacular views, and great photo opportunities. Many thanks to CBF for all the continuing efforts and programs to maintain the overall health and beauty of the Bay!"

—Doug Edmunds

Ensure that Doug and future generations continue to enjoy sunsets along extraordinary waters like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint!

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. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Balancing the Benefits of Menhaden

MenhadenCatch_JohnSurrickIndustrial fishing boats pull up a net chock-full of menhaden. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff.

In the 1940s, a company in Reedville, Virginia, that fished Atlantic menhaden for "reduction" (industrial processing) described the little silvery fish as "made for Man to harvest." To them, the supply was inexhaustible, with no other value except crab pot bait. 

Today, that viewpoint seems outrageous, but it dies hard. It has caused big problems for the menhaden, aka "bunker, pogy, or alewife." These herring relatives have ranged along the coast in astronomical numbers for thousands of years. Most of the fish winter and spawn off the Carolina coast.

In late winter, young-of-the-year move into estuaries to feed and grow. One-to-two-year-olds come in the spring. The Chesapeake provides them critical habitat. Older fish migrate further north, so the largest menhaden go to New England (where large Chesapeake rockfish spend the summer).

Why such vast numbers? Simple: menhaden eat low on the food web. They are omnivorous filter feeders, straining whatever water they swim through. Depending on a fish's age, it might catch phytoplankton (tiny algae cells), zooplankton (tiny invertebrate animals), or, especially in estuaries, detritus (semi-decayed plant material). 

The success of this ecological niche lies in tapping these vast food sources and converting them to oily, protein-filled flesh for the next level of the coastal food web. Menhaden feed predators like rockfish, bluefish, and sea trout, plus ospreys, loons, gannets, and marine mammals. Their value to these iconic fish and birds is immense. 

We humans make scant use of menhaden as food; their greatest direct economic values are oil, fish meal, and bait for fin- and shellfish. The oil goes into industrial products, including paints, cosmetics, and Omega-3 diet supplements. The leftover high-protein meal becomes livestock feed and pet food. 

The reduction industry came to the Chesapeake in the 1870s. Skillful captains and crews use purse seines to surround menhaden schools. Small airplanes help find fish. The harvest is highly automated, using twin 32-foot "purse boats" and 175-foot-long "steamers" (mother ships). Reedville is the fishery's hub. The industry supports 250 good-paying jobs.  To learn more, visit the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum.  

As bait, the menhaden's oily flesh exudes a trail to lure crabs and lobsters, as well as rockfish and bluefish. It has been particularly valuable here since the invention of the crab pot in 1928.

The bait fishery is concentrated between North Carolina and Massachusetts. Every watermen's village from Hampton Roads to Rock Hall is dependent on bait--likewise coastal North Carolina, Delaware Bay, New Jersey, and Long Island. With recent cutbacks in the Atlantic herring fishery because of depleted stocks, menhaden are now critical for New England’s lobster fishery. Though more spread out than the reduction fishery, the bait fishery supports more jobs.    

How many menhaden do these human fisheries catch? On recent average, about 200,000 metric tons (that’s 440,925,000 pounds per year). According to peer-reviewed fishery science, however, the current menhaden stock stands at only 8 percent of an un-fished population, the lowest point on record. Are we wise enough to back off before we crash it? 

Consider these alarming statistics:  Historically, menhaden provided 70 percent of an adult rockfish's diet, but that number has fallen to 8 percent. The percentage for Chesapeake ospreys has fallen from 70 percent to 28 percent, causing serious chick mortality. Clearly, a healthy menhaden stock is as vital to the Atlantic ecosystem as to humans. At 8 percent, there aren’t enough to go around. What to do?

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) coordinates and enforces fishery management plans for menhaden from Florida to Maine. It includes three commissioners from each state and one from the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. Last year, ASMFC's commissioners took the unprecedented step of setting an overfishing threshold to allow the population to grow to 15 percent, with a management target of 30 percent. This fall, the commissioners must decide how to reduce the catch without major harm to human fishermen and their communities, to leave enough for rockfish, bluefish, and sea trout, plus ospreys, loons, gannets, and marine mammals. It's a delicate balancing act. Like restoring the Chesapeake, if it were easy, we'd have done it long ago.

ASMFC has held public hearings on the new management plan and is taking written comment through November 16. YOU can play a valuable role by educating yourself and submitting comments. Public input played a key role in setting the threshold and target last year, and it will again. 

We had enough wisdom to pull back on blue crabs five years ago. Today, the population is much healthier. It's time to give menhaden the same respect, for ourselves as well as fish, birds, crabs, and lobsters. Our Bay and Atlantic coast won’t be healthy without them.

—John Page Williams
Senior Naturalist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

To learn more, read our menhaden blog series.

Please take action TODAY to help restore menhaden and the Chesapeake Bay!


Photo of the Week: Round Bay Sunrise

ImagePhoto by Greg Millenburg.

"This picture was taken October 1, 2012, just before sunrise along Round Bay from Kyle Point. I am a life-long Anne Arundel county resident who has always been in contact with the waters in and around the Chesapeake Bay. What I like most is the fishing opportunities that these waters provide. My grandfather took me crabbing and fishing. I have done the same with my children and have hopefully passed along my passion for this recreation and relaxation.

[Your organization] has helped make this possible through education, legislation, and by setting guidelines to reduce the negative impacts on our wonderful ecosystem. Thank You."

—Greg Millenburg

Ensure that Greg and his grandchildren can continue fishing and crabbing our Chesapeake waters. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint!

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. We look forward to seeing your photos!

The Key to Clean Water: Trees and Streams

David WiseOver the last 15 years, our restoration program has assisted more than 5,000 landowners in Pennsylvania in reducing water pollution and improving stream health by planting forested buffers. A few weeks ago, our Facebook fans asked CBF's Watershed Restoration Manager David Wise questions about the Pennsylvania restoration program and the benefits of planting trees along streams. See what he had to say below...

Facebook fan Timothy Shultz asked: Are there any plans for more stream restoration projects in Lancaster, Pennsylvania? We seem to only have two or three plantings a year. With hundreds of miles of streams, it seems we could have a few more plantings a year, given the funding and volunteers.

David Wise: Tim, thanks for your question. There’s a bit of history here. In the past, we were a pretty small operation and the level of restoration we were doing made it very hard to do volunteer plantings (which are enormously energy intensive) and take care of our wholesale restoration program. The good news is that we now have some additional staff and with the additional manpower we have, I think we are much better positioned to make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers while still working on restoration at the wholesale level. I think you can expect good things, and we are far better positioned than we were 10 years ago.

Facebook fan Amanda Elizabeth asked: What sorts of nutrients can buffers offer to stream animals?

D.W.: I’m going to have to pivot on this one. The real connection between trees and nutrients in streams is that nutrients are usually a pollutant in most local waterways. They are good in small amounts—they are necessary. But in large amounts they are the primary pollutants in local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. So, nutrients—too many is bad. The connection between trees and streams—by placing trees along streams, those trees are foundational to creating an environment in the stream that allows organisms in the stream to prosper and thrive. The things that live in the stream will actually remove a lot of the nitrogen and phosphorus and help tie up those nutrients so they don't move down the system.

The real nugget here is that by giving stream organisms the [right] temperatures, the type of food, and quantity of food that really make them thrive, those organisms are in a great position to do an awful lot of water quality work by removing excess nutrients from the stream system. A stream that has trees on its banks can remove two to nine times more nitrogen from the stream than a stream without trees on its banks.

Facebook fan Amanda Elizabeth asked a second question: What are some indicators of poor stream health that occur after the destruction of a forrested buffer?

D.W.: The first indicator and predictor is whether there are trees along the stream. Trees have such an enormous role in the basic ecology of Pennsylvania streams. The presence of trees would be a primary indication that a stream is heading in the right direction. Some of the indicators that you would see in the water itself; if you are seeing a lot of stringy algae that would be an indicator of excess nutrients and light levels in the stream. Most Pennsylvania streams are adapted to living under the shade of trees. The whole ecosystem is really set up to thrive best under those shady conditions. 

Many thanks for your questions!