Photo of the Week: Blue Heron Beauty

Blue Heron wimter

I have been tracking a male great blue heron in a location that, to me, [is of] great interest. He seems to be near a freshwater location about a mile upstream from a giant waste management facility on the Delaware side of the very north end of the Choptank River. Enjoy this beautiful bird!

—Joshua Jones 

Ensure that Joshua and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these along the Chesapeake. 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 Senior Manager of Digital Media, 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!

Angler Clean Water Story: Good Fishing Is Priceless!

Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

As for fishing, clean water means that the water is clean enough to support large numbers of the fish I fish for. Therefore, to support the kinds of fish that I care most about from egg to legal size, the water must also be clean enough to support the web of life on which they depend. Clean water along with physical and chemical features of the habitat such as the type of bottom, depth of water, current patterns, amount of structure, temperature and dissolved oxygen all determine what kinds of game fish will be present at any favorite fishing spot and how abundant they will be.

Often, the quality of water and the character of habitat far removed from where I try my fishing luck makes all the difference at dinner time between fresh-caught fish or plan B. The big rock caught near Cape Charles may have been fertilized at Port Deposit. So, to have the best chance of maintaining in good health large numbers of the fish we enjoy catching and/or eating, then we the people must do everything we can, everywhere we can do it to minimize pollution of the water and the destruction of habitat.

Good fishing is priceless and is one of the things that makes life worth living!

Capt. Robin Tyler, Magnolia, Delaware

What does the Bay and its rivers and streams mean to you? Share your angler clean water story here!

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!


Ask a Scientist: A Turning Point for Menhaden, Part Two

MenhadenByJustin Photo by Justin Benttinen/ 

Your Turn to Save the Menhaden

A few weeks ago we told you of an historic opportunity to rebuild the menhaden population, commonly referred to as “the most important fish in the sea.” Now, in a continuation of that blog, we delve deeper into why this fish matters, and what we can do now to help save it. Who better to ask than our own Bill Goldsborough, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Fisheries Director.

Why should people care about this fish?
People should care about menhaden because the health of the marine food web depends on this fish. Many of the Bay species that we value very highly—striped bass, osprey, bald eagles—depend on this fish. Furthermore, the disease problem facing striped bass has been linked to the lack of nutritionally rich menhaden available for their food.

What’s happening to menhaden right now?
The latest data paint a bleak picture for menhaden. A new updated scientific assessment of the menhaden population has determined that overfishing has occurred in 32 out of the last 54 years, presenting an historic pattern of overfishing. The ASMFC convened the scientists that did these analyses from among the state and federal agencies it represents, and they are all acknowledged menhaden population experts. In addition, they convened a panel of independent fishery scientists unaffiliated with the commission to review the assessment and make recommendations. This independent panel said that we’re down to 8 percent of what the menhaden population once was and that that’s too low. They said we need to have more conservative reference points—targets for the population level and rate of fishing as well as thresholds for delineating when overfishing is occurring and when the population is overfished—to better protect and build up the stock.

Where does the menhaden catch go?
Right now roughly 80 percent of the catch, or about 150,000 tons of menhaden per year, are caught in the “reduction” fishery, cooked, ground up, and processed into oil and meal to be used for farmed fish and livestock feed, pet food, paints, cosmetics, and dietary supplements. The remaining 20 percent is used for bait in commercial and recreational fisheries.

There’s a certain irony to taking fish from the wild and feeding them to farmed fish. Can you expand on that thought?
Menhaden are a fundamental food for so many different kinds of fish and marine mammals and seabirds . . . to be going out in the wild and catching this important forage fish just to process it and feed it to farmed-raised fish, thereby letting the natural system suffer . . . it’s an outrage really. 

Why are there some people out there who still believe that menhaden are not being overfished?
It’s important in how you word it . . . to say they are being overfished is correct; to say they are overfished is incorrect. These are the most recent scientific findings, but these findings are determined relative to standards that fishery managers adopted years ago. With the tighter standards that scientists are now recommending, the population would most assuredly be classified as overfished and being overfished. After all, there’s no dispute that the population is at its lowest point on record.

Why now? Why is it important now for people to take action?
The fact that this critically important fish’s population is at its lowest point on record is a startling wake-up call. As a result, ASMFC is considering changing its management plan for Atlantic menhaden by tightening the standards used to manage menhaden fishing. ASMFC is currently seeking public comment on possible new standards or “reference points” that outline desirable population levels and allowable fishing rates. Once reference points are established, ASMFC will develop fishing rules, such as catch limits, fishing seasons, and area closures, designed to achieve population targets and avoid overfishing.

What should people say in their public comments to ASMFC?
CBF is recommending option F15% as the overfishing threshold, which ensures that 15 percent of the original, unfished menhaden population is left intact (instead of the 8 percent it is currently). CBF is also recommending a fishing rate target of at least F30%, as an appropriate interim target.

I urge people to tell ASMFC that menhaden are very important in their ecological role, and it’s simply outrageous how low we’ve allowed the population to get. The rapid decline of menhaden creates huge problems for the entire ecosystem. People should tell ASMFC they want new reference points for menhaden that are sufficiently conservative and will turn around this decline and increase the population. Furthermore, the population should be allowed to increase to a point where menhaden can support a fishery and fulfill their vital ecological role.

—Emmy Nicklin


View Part One of this series here. The possible options for targets and thresholds are outlined in Draft Addendum V to the menhaden management plan. To learn more about this important fish and what you can do to save it, please visit our webpage. Send your comments to ASMFC,, urging the adoption of a new overfishing Threshold Option 2, a level corresponding to 15% of menhaden’s maximum spawning potential (MSP) as well as the adoption of Target Option 3, a fishing level corresponding to 30% MSP, by 5 p.m. November 2, 2011.


The Bicycle Diaries, Part Two

Jb “Wow, there’s just two of you, doing that whole thing . . . you’re really out there,” said motel keeper Inez after hearing CBFers John Rodenhausen and Beth McGee tell their story as they were checking in after another long day on their bikes. That was day four of the duo’s 1,300-mile circumnavigation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

And indeed “out there” they were . . . riding through corn fields, biking up Skyline Drive, running into black bears outside of Hancock, New York, hopping on ferries across the James River (and the Bay itself), soaking weary legs in fresh mountain streams, and telling their personal stories, raising awareness and money for cancer, diabetes, and the Chesapeake Bay along the way.

“One thing that we really tried to get across to everybody especially when we were up north in New York and Pennsylvania was that clean water benefits everybody," says Rodenhausen. "It’s not about the Bay when we’re riding through New York…it’s about you guys and your clean water.”  

Algae Sadly, that message didn’t come soon enough in some places. “Toward the end of our trip, we were coming through Laurel, Delaware, crossing Broad Creek—a tributary to the Nanticoke—which feeds into the Bay,” says McGee. “And there was a huge Microcystis, which is a blue-green algae—an algae that’s extremely toxic. If dogs would drink it or people would swim in it and ingest it, it would cause gastrointestinal issues and actually it’s a neurotoxin . . . really bad stuff.” Rodenhausen adds, “the [clean water] issues that we’re talking about now are very pertinent and germane to everyone’s lives and livelihoods.” 

Read "The Bicycle Diaries, Part One," here!

—Emmy Nicklin


To learn how you can fight for clean water click here. To read more of Rodenhausen and McGee’s extraordinary journey, please visit their blog. Check out our Facebook page for more photos of their big welcome home and find out how you can both bike and save the Bay here

Finally, to donate to Rodenhausen and McGee’s causes, please visit the following pages:


Dealing With Disaster

It's been quite a week for the Chesapeake Bay.

First, on Monday, Bay state and Washington, D.C. representatives and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tentatively agreed to recommend pushing back the current 2010 deadline, set in 2000, for cleaning up the Bay another ten years. CBF issued a statement congratulating governments for what they have achieved in recent years but expressing frustration that the deadline for true restoration has been pushed back on leaders who have not yet come to office or position.

On Tuesday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez issued a federal disaster declaration for the Bay's blue crab fishery. Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski asked for the declaration back in May. Funding is still pending but Sen. Mikulski is optimistic it will come through quickly.

As an editorial in the Free Lance-Star stated, both serve as reminders that, even in this see-sawing economy, "cleaning up the bay needs to remain a top priority--one that will pay future economic dividends in jobs, recreational pursuits, and the bay's delicious bounty."

An editorial in today's Daily Press about the crab crisis notes, "Real improvement in the outlook for crabs or any bay residents depends on fixing the underlying conditions that threaten them." That echoes arguments made back in April that while we need a quick fix for the sake of our watermen's economy, what we really need is long-term committment. Not rhetoric, real committment.

Yesterday, in a move that holds the federal government accountable for its responsibilities to the Clean Water Act and to the American public, CBF issued a federal blueprint for environmental action by the next Administration. Titled "Restoring Clean Water and the Chesapeake Bay: A Plan for America's Next President," it outlines 16 specific actions that the next president and Congress need to take if we are to be successful in reducing pollution, meeting the requirements of the Clean Water Act, and improving local economies.

What are your thoughts on the week's news?

President Proposes Almost $24 Million in Cuts for Bay Region

Once again, the Bush Administration is proposing to reduce federal funding for pollution reduction, species preservation, and habitat restoration in the Bay region. This year the proposed decrease is almost 24 million dollars.

With only three years to go to meet the 2010 goals for the Bay, this is a step backwards, just when the Bay states have been stepping forward with unprecedented programs and funding to reduce pollution. 

However, there is still opportunity to turn around the President’s proposed cuts. Congress frequently makes significant changes to the President’s proposal before it takes final action. This is where you can help. 

Right now and through the middle of this month, your locally elected U.S. Senators and Representative are developing their own list of priority requests for consideration by the all-important Appropriations Committees. These requests are often even more important than the President’s. 

You can encourage your elected officials to reverse the trend set by this President and fight for increasing, not decreasing, federal help for the restoration of the Bay and the streams that feed it. 

The Bay needs your help. Click here to write to your Senators and Representative to let them know you care.

Take the Polar Bear Plunge and Fight Global Warming

Logo_polar_plungeOn December 8, CBF's president, Will Baker, will join hundreds of others across the country and take the Chesapeake Climate Action Network's third annual Polar Bear Plunge into the fridgid waters of Chesapeake Bay. Won't you join him?

CCAN's annual polar bear plunge draws prominent elected officials and journalists and allows us to dramatically communicate the dire threat to our planet’s environment – and to the Chesapeake Bay. We have one planet and it has a fever, and we need clean energy solutions now.

Join Will and other CBFers at this event and fundraiser. It all begins at 11 am on Saturday, Dec. 8th on the beach at CBF's Merrill Center headquarters in Annapolis. CCAN will have heated tents on the beach plus hot chocolate and donuts and even a trio of polar bears who sing rap songs for the Earth. It’s fun for the whole family for a cause that couldn’t be more vital.

Can't get to Annapolis? Check CCAN's Keep Winter Cold website for a plunge near you.

Register online at

And, again, keep in mind that this is also a fundraiser for CCAN and their work to fight global warming, such as the campaign to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act here in Maryland. Participants are simply asked to get their friends and family members to give pledges to sponsor their plunge. It’s easy, and CCAN will take care of all the details.

Report Bad Water Quality

Badwatershotline 1.866.666.9260
Write that number down.

The news this summer has been dismal. Three-hundred-thousand fish dead in Mattox Creek off the Potomac River in July. Twenty thousand in Weems Creek in June. A six-mile-long algal bloom in the Potomac.

We want to know more about what's going on in our rivers and Bay, and we need your help to do it.

If you see or hear about something troubling on the water —like an algal bloom, fish kill, or "crab jubilee"—inform the proper authorities and call CBF'S Bad Water Strike Force Hotline at 1.866.666.9260.

When you call, you'll be asked for some basic information, including:

  • Where and when did the event happen?
  • What did the water look like?
  • Were there dead fish? If so, how many, what kind, big or small?
  • What were the weather conditions?
  • Have you or can you take a picture of the event?
  • Have you contacted the appropriate state agency?

At the end of the summer, CBF will use your data to develop a report on bad water events in the region.  We will share the report with government officials and urge them to support funding for Bay restoration. We'll also share the report with you.

Delmarva Blue Crab Festival

Thanks to ShoreThings for this info: The 1st Annual Delmarva Blue Crab Festival is scheduled to take place August 10th-12th in Milton, DE. The sponsors of the event include local print, radio and television media companies along with beverage suppliers and several recognizable business names. The festival will designate a portion of its proceeds for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.