“Most Important Fish in the Bay” Film at Library Oct. 23

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Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Monday, October 23, 6 p.m. at the Kent County Public Library (Yellow Building) in downtown Chestertown for an evening of all things menhaden. CBF is screening the short film Menhaden: The Most Important Fish in the Bay, followed by a discussion of the current state of the fishery in the Chesapeake. CBF’s Maryland Senior Scientist Doug Myers will describe the critical role that menhaden play in the Bay’s food web and answer questions from the audience.

Menhaden face potential new threats along the Atlantic coast. Right now, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is responding by considering revisions to its fishery management plan. One proposed amendment to the plan could help keep more fish in the water by including important guidelines—called “ecological reference points.” These will help fishery managers ensure that enough of these essential fish remain in the water, serving their role as a vital food source for rockfish, osprey, and countless other Bay critters.

Any threat to this critical fish is also a threat to the numerous animals that rely on it. Learn more about the current state of this fishery and what you can do to help on October 23rd. This event is free and open to the public. Contact Hilary Gibson at hgibson@cbf.org or call 410/543-1999 with questions.

If you can’t make the event, you can still make your voice heard. Written comments on ASMFC’s Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden will be accepted through Tuesday, October 24, 2017. Comments can be sent to comments@asmfc.org (Subject line: Draft Amd. 3). More information on menhaden and what you can do is at cbf.org/menhaden.

 

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Join Other Groups in Suit Against EPA

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and six regional and national groups concerned with human health and a clean environment today filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organizations want federal action to stop 19 out-of-state power plants from harming Marylanders and the Chesapeake Bay.

“Last week the State of Maryland sued the EPA to force the agency to stop air pollution from hurting Marylanders. The lawsuit today supports the state’s decisive step. It also highlights how the same pollutants harming our children are degrading water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams. Fish are having as much trouble breathing as people because of these 19 power plants,” said Jon Mueller, Vice President of Litigation at CBF.

The 19 plants are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky. All are coal-fired plants. A total of 36 generating units at the plant are targeted by the lawsuit. Their air pollution emissions drift to Maryland and other downwind states. Maryland and other parts of the Chesapeake Bay region are vulnerable to emissions from a vast 570,000 square-mile Chesapeake “airshed” that stretches from North Carolina to Canada and as far west as the Ohio Valley.

One part of the emissions, nitrogen oxides (NOx), often turns to ozone in the hot summer months. Ozone, sometimes called smog, makes it difficult for many people to breathe. On 14 days this past summer ozone levels were so high a Code Orange Air Quality Alert was issued for the Baltimore area, meaning the air was unhealthy for seniors, children and others with sensitivities.

NOx, being a form of nitrogen, also harms the Chesapeake and the streams and rivers that feed it. Excess nitrogen fuels algal blooms that result in underwater dead zones where aquatic life can’t breathe.

EPA promised in the regional Bay clean-up plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint that it would lower the amount of nitrogen emitted into the atmosphere yet is has refused to respond to Maryland’s petition. If it did respond nitrogen levels would come down.

In fact, if the 19 plants used their pollution controls effectively through the summer they would send about 39,000 fewer tons of NOx to Maryland each summer, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). That reduction would make the air and water significantly healthier in Maryland. Simply turning those technologies on fully, in fact, would bring all of Maryland and the Washington, D.C. area closer to compliance with clean air standards for ozone, according to MDE.
EPA is obligated by law to hold a public hearing and to timely respond to Maryland’s petition. EPA has failed in both respects and has shown no signs of acting. The six environmental and public health groups have no choice but to ask a federal judge to hold EPA accountable.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. It requests EPA act on this interstate air pollution problem. The “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act requires states to ensure that air pollution generated in their home states not harm downwind states.

Participating in the lawsuit are: CBF (lead counsel), Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Adirondack Council.
The State of Maryland filed a similar lawsuit against EPA last week.

Diversity matters in this different kind of fishing tournament

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A different kind of fishing tournament here on Oct. 7 will give anglers advanced notice of the best fishing spots in the area, and will award prizes for the diversity of fish netted, not just size. It’s the Rod & Reef Slam, a celebration of the Chesapeake Bay fisherman’s best friend: an oyster reef.

Sponsored by Coastal Conservation Association, Maryland; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF); the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative; and NOAA, the Slam is taking registrations here and at hgibson@cbf.org and 302-388-7659.

The late Clint Waters of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association (MSSA) used to tell his fellow anglers that “the best fishing hole” in the Choptank River was a place called Cook’s Point. Waters wasn’t telling fish stories when he reported that he routinely caught up to seven different species there: striped bass, hardhead, white perch, spot, and more. Some fishermen have even snagged legal black sea bass, fish rarely seen around the Chesapeake over the past 100 years.

Cook’s Point is an oyster reef near the mouth of the Choptank – a man-made reef at that. It is one of three such reefs that anglers will fish on at the Rod & Reef Slam. The others are Harris Creek and the Tilghman Island Artificial Reef just outside Knapps Narrows.

“Fish love oyster reefs like humans like a buffet line. As a result, recreational fishermen also love oyster reefs,” said John Page Williams, a CBF naturalist and widely known angler.

Oysters are called a keystone species in the Chesapeake. Oyster reefs are more than just mounds of shell; they form a foundation of the entire Bay ecosystem. They filter the water. And the intricate latticework of shells provides vital habitat for many small plants and animals that make their homes on reefs. Barnacles, mussels, and bryozoans attach to the oyster shells. Other animals like redbeard sponges, flower-like anemones, and feathery hydroids branch out into the water. Mobile invertebrates such as mud crabs, oyster drills and grass shrimp inhabit the nooks and crannies. Small fish like blennies, gobies and skillet-fish feed on the reefs, and attract larger animals such as striped bass and blue crabs.

But the benefits of these reefs are sometimes lost in debates about the cost of restoring oysters in Maryland. Some critics have questioned the tens of millions of dollars (mostly in federal money) that has been spent to restore over nearly 600 acres of oyster reefs in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River.

These man-made reefs are showing real promise in their primary job: growing oysters. The latest report about on the Harris Creek project, for instance, found 97 percent of the area meeting minimal density standards for a restored reef, and 80 percent meeting optimal standards.

But just as the Harris Creek reef seems to be doing so well, some critics are questioning the state’s plan to finish large projects on the Little Choptank, and Tred Avon, as well as man-made reefs planned for the future.

The Rod & Reef Slam is meant to remind us of the benefits from such projects. Recreational fishermen typically understand those benefits. For instance, the Dorchester Chapter of the MSSA (of which Clint Waters was president) partnered with CBF and the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative to submerge more than 650 “reef balls” with baby oysters below the Bill Burton fishing pier in Cambridge – to attract fish.

Where you find oysters, you’ll find fish, and fishermen.

The tournament cost is $50, which covers entry fee, after party food, giveaways, live entertainment and access to a cash bar. Youth ages 16 and under may participate for free with a participating adult. Tickets for $10 are available for after party food and entertainment only. Lines in will be 6:45 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7 and lines out 2:30 p.m. Powerboat, kayak, and youth divisions. More information here or at 302-388-7659 or hgibson@cbf.org.

CBF: Pennsylvania Still a Problem with Nitrogen in the Bay

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) assessment of progress made implementing milestone commitments in 2016 found Maryland and Virginia largely on track to meet commitments for reducing pollution and Pennsylvania falling significantly short in reducing nitrogen pollution.

“While there is significant room for improvement in all the states, it is important to note that reduced pollution is benefitting the Bay. Over time, the dead zone is getting smaller, Bay grasses are at record levels, and oysters are rebounding,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “The success all three states have had in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is important, but it also masks shortfalls in each of the states’ efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. Continued federal and state investments will be key to success on the state level, and we know the payoff will be significant.”

Under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the states have committed to implementing 60 percent of the practices necessary to restore the Bay by 2017, and 100 percent by 2025. Over the next year, the states and EPA will assess progress and develop new plans to achieve the 2025 goal.

The two-year milestones provide transparency and accountability for restoration efforts. This assessment is for the first year of the 2016-17 milestone period.

CBF’s assessment looked at the practices the states put in place in 2016, as well as selected programs each state has designed to achieve the long-term goals. (Attached to this email is a narrative summary of the Maryland assessment, and a chart summarizing findings for all six states in the Bay watershed and the District of Columbia.)

Pennsylvania practices

Pennsylvania is significantly off track in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agriculture as well as urban/suburban runoff. Progress in reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants is on track. Overall progress to reduce nitrogen pollution is significantly off track, but efforts to reduce phosphorus and sediment pollution are only slightly off track.

Pennsylvania programs

Pennsylvania’s re-boot committed the Commonwealth to develop and implement an agricultural compliance and enforcement strategy. As part of that strategy inspections were to be conducted on 10 percent of its farms annually. With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program and other sources, over 1,100 farms were visited between October 2016 and March 2017, an inspection rate below what is needed to visit 10% of farms. However, the pace of inspections has increased now that the process is more established. Roughly 70% of the farms had the required plans. These inspections, however, only assess whether the required plans exist, not whether they are implemented – a major shortfall of state efforts to date.

Pennsylvania also committed to counting and reporting on agricultural practices that are not government funded. A recent Penn State study reported many practices that the Commonwealth had not counted.

Pennsylvania’s efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are showing mixed success. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in reducing pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. To help jumpstart reductions, the Commonwealth has implemented specific, numeric goals in permits for small municipalities.

“Pennsylvania’s pollution reduction strategy has shown some progress and the Commonwealth is in the process of developing a new watershed implementation plan to carry it toward the 2025 goals,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell. “But the Commonwealth is considering yet another budget that falls well short of providing the investments necessary for success. Pennsylvania will only be successful with sustained investments in the right places and on the right practices.

Maryland practices

Maryland is slightly off track reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture, while on track to remove phosphorus and sediment pollution. Urban/suburban efforts have fallen far short for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Maryland’s efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants are on track. Thus, overall efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution are slightly off track, while pollution reduction efforts for phosphorus and sediment are on track.

Maryland programs

While seeing success in wastewater treatment plants, Maryland is significantly behind in reducing pollution from septic systems. Technologies exist to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution from septic systems, however the state has stopped requiring those technologies to be used for new systems more than 1,000 feet from tidal waters.

There are requirements in Maryland for large municipalities to develop plans and implement technologies to reduce urban/suburban runoff by replacing 20 percent of impervious surfaces with practices that absorb and filter rainwater. While the Maryland Department of the Environment has reviewed those plans, it has not taken action to correct deficiencies. In addition, draft permits for smaller municipalities fail to require any restoration actions in the next five years.

Maryland is implementing its agricultural phosphorus management tool, which will limit the application of phosphorus on land that already has excess phosphorus. Current programs to match excess manure with farms where it can be used safely may need to be expanded.

“We can feel proud that Maryland got off to a strong start in this epic project to restore the Chesapeake and that state leaders remain committed to the Blueprint. From streams in Western Maryland to tidal creeks on the Eastern Shore, we see evidence of cleaner water. But the job is far from done,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. “We must work together to find solutions for polluted runoff in our cities and suburbs, for failing septic systems in rural areas, and for problems from sprawl development. Given the uncertainties around federal leadership on this effort, we urge the General Assembly and the Hogan Administration to tackle the challenges head-on for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations of Marylanders.”

Virginia practices

Virginia is on track to meet its phosphorus goal for agriculture, and slightly off track for nitrogen and sediment. The Commonwealth is significantly off track in meeting nitrogen and sediment goals for urban/suburban runoff, while only slightly off track for phosphorus. Due to its success with upgrading sewage treatment plants, overall, Virginia is on track for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and slightly off track for sediment.

Virginia programs

Virginia’s efforts to reduce pollution from urban/suburban runoff are continuing to fall short of its goals. While new permits have been issued for both large municipalities and smaller jurisdictions, permit requirements are not sufficient to achieve the necessary pollution reduction by 2025.

Virginia’s agricultural programs have made steady progress, but there is room for improvement. A program funding 100 percent of the costs to fence cattle out of streams was so successful that there is a backlog of more than 400 farmers waiting for funding. And Virginia’s agricultural certainty program has resulted in the approval of 300 plans, covering more than 65,000 acres of cropland. However, implementation of these plans is lagging, Adoption of cover crops is below targets and implementation of forest buffers is also off track.

“It’s not often that we celebrate overachievements, but the incredible progress made in upgrading Virginia’s wastewater treatment plants allows the Commonwealth to remain largely on track for meeting goals to reduce pollution in our waterways,” said CBF Virginia Executive Director Rebecca LePrell. “However, the road doesn’t stop here. As we approach 2025, the success of wastewater treatment plants should serve as a model for addressing challenges in cutting polluted runoff from agriculture, cities, and suburbs. As state elections near, I hope Virginia’s next governor will work with legislators to ensure stable and adequate investment in farm conservation practices and support for local governments to reduce polluted runoff.”

CBF Notes: Catch the Last Two Clean Water Concerts by Erika Koontz

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As the first official day of summer arrives, so do the final two Clean Water Concert Series performances here.

Photo by Erika Koontz

Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Avalon Foundation, Harrison Street between Dover and Goldsborough will be blocked off again on June 24 and July 8 from 6-8:30 p.m. for this free summertime tradition on the Shore. You won’t want to miss this year’s line-up:

Saturday, June 24: U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters

The Navy’s official chorus performs pieces ranging from Broadway tunes to sea chanteys and everything in between.

Saturday, July 8: The XPD’s

A D.C. area favorite, the XPD’s groove to Motown, R&B, and funk tunes that get people dancing.

Now in its fifth year, the Clean Water Concert Series has gotten off to a fantastic start. People from around the Shore came out on June 3 to enjoy the first show! The Spanish and Portuguese songs of Cantaré, a Latin American group from Washington, D.C., drew in people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. An estimated 1,500 attendees danced, enjoyed the music from a comfortable lawn chair, or caught the up-beat melodies while visiting the exhibitor tables.

More than a dozen community organizations staffed the family-friendly exhibits to educate people about the environment, and to celebrate the progress being made toward clean and healthy waterways on the Shore. Each organization offered an interactive and family-friendly activity that had something for everyone. Side-walk chalk drawings of Chesapeake Bay critters and drips of delicious Nice Farms Creamery ice cream covered the street by the end of the night.

All concerts are free and open to the public. The wide variety of environmental and community exhibits staffed by experts will be on display for children and adults to enjoy. CBF and the Avalon Foundation are pleased to host this opportunity to learn more about the Bay and how you can be a part of the movement to restore it.

The concert series promotes community awareness about the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a multi-state, science-based plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.

Visit cbf.org to learn more.

Op-Ed: Chesapeake Bay Foundation Says Teamwork is Needed

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“We are stronger together than alone.” It’s an idea that can benefit many people and situations – even those who serve us in government.

In today’s political climate, it’s hard to imagine government officials standing together in unity on much of anything.

Yet just this week representatives of six local jurisdictions on Maryland’s Eastern Shore signed off on a proposal to work collaboratively to control polluted runoff – one of the few sources of Bay pollution that’s increasing.

The collaborative comes out of the Healthy Waters Round Table – a network of county and town officials on the Shore that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and partners helped launch in 2015. The network helps participating communities share resources to keep pollution out of local rivers and streams.

County and town collaboration is a win-win idea. Under the Clean Water Blueprint, Maryland’s local governments are partners in the multi-state commitment to get projects in place by 2025 that will collectively meet water quality standards for the Bay. The problem is that most rural communities like those on the Shore have limited resources at their disposal to contribute to the effort.

Leaders of some jurisdictions are charging new fees to help fund pollution control. Salisbury, for example, assesses homeowners about $20 per year to pay for street sweeping, new plants and trees, and other practices that filter and treat runoff near its source.

But even with this extra effort, Salisbury finds it difficult to get the necessary work done to protect local water quality. That’s why it recently joined Cambridge, Easton, Oxford, Queen Anne’s and Talbot in the new partnership to try share resources. (Round Table partners including Caroline, Cecil, Chestertown and Kent declined to participate.)

The time and effort it takes to bring a municipal or county pollution control project from conception to completion is not insignificant. Scoping out projects, ushering them through design and approval, and managing construction, can sometimes slow projects almost to a halt.

With CBF’s help, county and town partners agreed to work collectively to try to get through this bottleneck. For instance, localities this week partnered on a grant application to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to bring in new technical support staff and funding that can speed up project delivery.

If the proposal is approved, a “Regional Service Provider” will be hired who helps locals plan, prioritize and invest grant dollars in high-value projects. The process also will ensure that pollution reduction efforts get results, and that local governments get credit.

The Hogan Administration likes the idea. State agencies under the Governor’s purview have pledged resources of their own that together with cash contributions from participating local governments will provide some significant horsepower to get work done. If awarded, the three-year initiative would begin as soon as this August.

On the Shore, limited resources are a major impediment to county and town progress on controlling polluted runoff. The new collaborative may be just what’s needed here to get communities what they need to help them do their share to finish the job of restoring the Bay to health.

by Alan Girard

Alan Girard is the director of the Eastern Shore Office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

CBF View: Legislation Passes to Prevent Harvesting on Oyster Sanctuaries until Science Complete by Tom Zolper

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Harvesting on oyster sanctuaries won’t be allowed, at least for the time being, after the Maryland General Assembly reaffirmed that it wants to proceed with caution when it comes to the state’s famous bivalve.

A bill, HB 924, approved overwhelmingly in both houses, reiterated that the state wait for a scientific assessment of the oyster stock in Maryland waters before contemplating any major changes in oyster management. Governor Hogan took no action on the bill, so it became law April 6.

The legislature approved the stock assessment a year ago. But in the meantime, the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC), with support from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), had begun to consider a plan to harvest oysters on nearly 1,000 acres of oyster sanctuaries.

Sanctuaries are protected areas where oysters can’t be harvested. That protection allows the reefs to grow vertically out of the silt, to filter polluted water, and to create habitat for fish. Sanctuaries make up about a quarter of the oyster reefs in Maryland. The remaining three-quarters are open to harvest.

Scientists on the OAC, as well as 30 environmental groups, had repeatedly cautioned DNR and oyster industry representatives on the OAC that it was premature to consider opening sanctuaries to harvest without the scientific stock assessment, set to be completed at the end of next year.

Even current scientific information provides no justification for opening sanctuaries. A study by DNR in July found biomass had increased on sanctuaries generally. Oysters were growing, thanks to the protection. DNR cautioned in that report that the healthiest sanctuaries should be left alone.

Yet a proposal presented in February by DNR recommended that several of those healthy sanctuaries be “declassified” and opened for occasional harvest, as well as several other, slightly less healthy sanctuaries.

The passage of HB 924 indicated the legislature’s desire to continue a more precautionary approach than DNR and the OAC were pursuing.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) supported HB 924. With the oyster population at such precarious levels in the Bay, it makes sense to consider a sustainable oyster management harvest plan. The stock assessment will provide the science for that plan. All other fisheries have similar plans, but none has ever been developed for oysters.

Some watermen and others have blamed CBF for acting in “bad faith” by supporting HB 924. They say the bill was used as a tool to disrupt an otherwise collaborative OAC process. But we aren’t the bad guy here.

We agree that too many hours in OAC meetings were wasted developing a proposal to harvest on sanctuaries. We should never have started down that path—before scientists finish a stock assessment. The OAC could have looked into many other aspects of state oyster policy: aquaculture, harvesting in general, poaching, etc. We encouraged the OAC to look into a pilot program of rotational harvesting in the area of the Bay where harvesting already is permitted—but not on sanctuaries. Once the talks headed down the road of harvesting on sanctuaries, a process DNR Secretary Belton abetted, a clash was inevitable.

We also disagree that environmentalists had in any way agreed to harvesting on sanctuaries, only to renege later. Thirty environmental groups submitted a letter to OAC and DNR in December underscoring the need to leave sanctuaries alone, absent sufficient scientific information. CBF also presented a bipartisan poll showing that about 90 percent of Marylanders, across party lines, share those sentiments about sanctuaries.

Despite all this resistance, Belton asked county oyster committees for their proposals for how harvesting on sanctuaries could happen. Then, the secretary asked the environmental groups if they had any proposals for changing the sanctuaries.

Needless to say, that’s like asking someone who doesn’t like spinach to propose how he’d like to eat it. CBF kept our lips pursed. So did scientists on the OAC, and other environmental groups.

A few community groups stepped up with proposals for small expansions of oyster reefs that their volunteers had been planting with baby oysters over the years. They wanted official ‘sanctuary’ designation for those small reefs.

But no environmental groups expressed support for harvesting on sanctuaries. There never was consensus for this idea on the OAC. The idea came from watermen, seafood industry representatives, and legislators on the panel (all of whom generally strongly support watermen on policy issues).

In the end, CBF and other groups supported HB 924 because they weren’t being heard at the OAC, and by DNR.

That support wasn’t meant to disrupt. Just the opposite. It was meant to prevent a disruption of the state’s cautious, science-based approach to oyster management.
Tom Zolper is the Assistant Media Director at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

CBF Issues Statement On OMB Proposal to Slash Bay Restoration Funding

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Following reports in the Washington Post today of the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposal to cut Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding in support of the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint, Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker issued the following statement.

The OMB proposal reduces funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program from about $73 million annually to $5 million in the next fiscal year. EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program coordinates science, research, and modeling to implement the Blueprint, as well as grants to state and local governments and others to help reduce pollution.

“Reducing funding for the successful Chesapeake Bay clean-up, begun by Ronald Reagan, seems inconsistent with the President’s remarks about clean water.

“The proposed reduction in federal investment in Chesapeake Bay would reverse restoration successes. The EPA role in the cleanup of the Chesapeake is nothing less than fundamental. It’s not just important, it’s critical.

“Restoration efforts are working. There is measurable progress in restoring local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. Crabs and oysters are rebounding, the dead zone is getting smaller, and Bay grasses are at their highest levels in decades. The progress is the result of the federal and state partnership implementing the Clean Water Blueprint, as well as the work of citizens, business, farmers, and local governments all doing their share to reduce pollution.

“The Blueprint has bipartisan support, as was recently demonstrated in a letter led by Chesapeake Bay Task Force co-chairs Congressmen Bobby Scott, Rob Wittman, Andy Harris, and John Sarbanes from seventeen members of Congress to President Trump, calling on his administration to continue full funding of Bay restoration efforts.

“We urge all local partners—residents, businesses, watershed groups, universities, and state and local governments—to let their voices be heard.

“The OMB proposal is only the first step in developing EPA’s budget, and we hope that Administrator Pruitt will want to take advantage of a program that’s successful, bi-partisan, and non-controversial. It works.”

CBF Poll: MD Voters Overwhelmingly Support Oyster Sanctuaries

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An overwhelming majority of Maryland voters across party lines support maintaining existing Chesapeake Bay oyster sanctuaries, according to a poll by a bipartisan research team commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).

“The state is considering a proposal to open up a net of nearly 1,000 acres of oyster sanctuaries to harvest. ‘Don’t you dare!’ Marylanders are saying loud and clear,” said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of CBF. “Voters understand the value of leaving a quarter of the state’s reefs closed to harvest, so oysters can recover from decades of overharvest and disease.”

The results found 88 percent of Marylanders support existing sanctuaries, two-thirds of those voters “strongly.” The findings suggest strong support across party lines, with 91 percent of registered Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 82 percent of Republicans in support.

Public support for the sanctuaries actually increased after the survey summarized the oyster industry’s reasons for wanting the expanded harvesting. Industry representatives have argued at Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meetings that the state unfairly increased the sanctuaries in 2010. They say too much public money has been spent on restoring the oyster population of the Bay.

Understanding the industry’s position, voters were even more in favor of keeping sanctuaries intact, with support rising from 88 percent to 91 percent.

The poll found voters understand the value of undisturbed oyster beds. Fully 92 percent said that the ability of those sanctuary reefs to filter pollutants from the water, and to improve water quality was “extremely” or “very important” to them. And 88 percent of voters said they value the protection and habitat for fish, crabs, and other plants and wildlife that protected reefs provide.

The poll results come a little over a week after the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) compiled proposals submitted to date and presented a “strawman” proposal to the OAC to let the oyster industry harvest on 977 acres net of oyster reefs which currently are off-limits to harvesting. That proposal will be discussed by OAC members, and possibly adopted, changed or rejected in coming weeks.

A bill (HB 924) being considered in the Maryland General Assembly would require the state to hold off on any alterations of the oyster sanctuaries until a scientific assessment of the oyster stock is completed in 2018. That legislation will be heard today, Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Sanctuaries are Maryland’s insurance policy for the future oyster population. By protecting a small portion of the state’s oyster bottom from harvesting, oysters on the sanctuaries can grow and reproduce. A DNR study published in July, 2016 found oysters thriving in much of the sanctuary system, but found scarce numbers of oysters elsewhere.

Three-quarters of Maryland’s oyster reefs are open to harvesting, under current regulations. The proposal before the OAC would shrink the sanctuary areas by 11 percent, and enlarge the harvest areas.

The poll was conducted by a bipartisan collaboration between Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a Democratic polling firm, and Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm.

“Marylanders understand we must take the long view managing our oysters. That’s why it’s vitally important we wait for scientists to finish their stock assessment. We wouldn’t spend money without knowing what’s in our bank account. We need science-based management for Maryland oysters just like we have for every other fishery. We must wait to see how many oysters are at the bottom of the Bay before we randomly increase the harvest,” Prost said.