After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

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Author Archives: Fred Tutman

Gerald Winegrad: Neglect fuels Chesapeake oyster collapse. It’s time to close the wild fishery

https://www.capitalgazette.com/opinion/columns/ac-ce-column–20200103-dogxbqhp25dmvdfa3n4k2id3zy-story.html

Capital Gazette |

Jan 03, 2020 | 9:42 AM

Environmentalist Gerald Winegrad plants oyster seed at his dock on Oyster Creek in Annapolis with students.

Chesapeake oysters have collapsed to less than 1 percent of their historic populations. Harvests have plummeted to 136,954 bushels in Maryland. In the late 1800s, 20 million bushels were taken in the bay. In 1900, processing oysters was the third-largest employer in Baltimore City. Oyster’s dockside value far exceeded any other bay fishery until the last 50 years.

I can remember when City Dock in Annapolis was crowded with oyster boats loading their catch onto a buy boat or by conveyor belt onto trucks backed up next to the Fleet Reserve.og A rigorous stock assessment dictated by the General Assembly in lieu of actions to curtail overharvest was completed in 2018. It documented a striking 50 percent decline in Maryland’s oyster population from 1999 to 2017. This was despite the expenditure of more than $50 million in public funds to restore populations — a failed effort.

Exacerbating this problem are the last two years of extremely low spat-set meaning a substantial further decline in oyster numbers as well as major reductions in oyster plantings on sanctuaries.

While the economic impact on watermen and processors has been huge, the Chesapeake’s health has suffered, too. Oysters are the bay’s top keystone species with large adults able to filter and cleanse 50 gallons of water a day. This removes excess nutrients and settles sediments, the two major bay pollutants. Oysters used to filter all bay water in 3-5 days; now it takes at least 1.5 years.

If there was one measurement of the success or failure of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, it would be the oyster. The bitter, sad truth is we have allowed oyster populations to collapse. The bay states recognized the importance of this keystone species when they committed in 2000 to increase oyster biomass by 10-fold by 2010. This goal was abandoned as stocks declined.

Why has the collapse occurred?

First, overharvest has been occurring for many decades. The 2018 stock assessment found that 50% of oyster bars are overharvested. There is also rampant poaching from sanctuaries. Maryland has failed to act to stop these problems. Virginia has shifted to more significant aquaculture operations (248,347 bushels last season).

Second, is the failure to reduce sediment pollution primarily from farm operations but also from polluted stormwater from developed areas. Scientists document that more than 70% of Maryland oyster bars have been smothered with excess sediment.

In an August 2011 study published by five Maryland scientists, they noted a massive decline of 92% in Maryland oyster biomass since 1980. A moratorium on all wild harvesting was proposed. The researchers attributed the decline primarily to overfishing and concluded that if harvest had stopped in 1986, adult abundance would be 15.8 times greater than in 2011. Instead, watermen continued to harvest 25% of the remaining oysters each year.

This collapse in bay oysters follows a global pattern necessitating a shift to aquaculture operations. More than 95 percent of global oyster harvest is from aquaculture.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation called for a moratorium in 1990 and in 2010, CBF recommended a transition from wild harvest to aquaculture. On Feb. 18, 2019, the Baltimore Sun editorialized: Chesapeake Bay Oysters: Time to Talk Moratorium.

The recent weak harvest restrictions Maryland DNR proposed will do almost nothing to restore oyster populations. What we don’t need is another study or fishery management plan the legislature is considering by overriding the Governor’s veto of SB 830. We need action — and now. I propose legislation to:

  1. Phase-out wild oyster harvest over a five-year period beginning with a faster phase out of damaging power dredging—the entire Chesapeake should be an oyster sanctuary—while compensating harvesters to shift to aquaculture operations;
  2. Adopt a compensation fund to pay watermen an amount based on an average of their last three years of oyster landings with the funds to be used to assist them in converting to oyster aquaculture including an aquaculture insurance program to augment USDA aquaculture disaster insurance allowing watermen to insure their aquaculture oyster crops; and
  3. Ban any sanctuary harvest or change in boundaries of sanctuaries except to enlarge them.

To Save The Bay, we must save the oyster.

Gerald Winegrad served in the Maryland legislature for 16 years and led efforts to restore the Bay.  He chaired the Senate Environment and Chesapeake Bay Subcommittee and has taught graduate courses in Bay Restoration since 1988. The Washington Post called him “The environmental conscience of the Senate.”  He can be reached at: gwwabc@comcast.net

 

 

BAY STATES HAVE MISSED THEIR FEDERALLY REQUIRED NITROGEN REDUCTION BY 50%

BAY STATES HAVE MISSED THEIR FEDERALLY REQUIRED NITROGEN REDUCTION BY 50%

SENATOR WINEGRAD QUESTIONS CLAIMS OF VICTORY FOR “RECORD” BAY GRASS COVERAGE SIGNALIZING BAY RECOVERY SUCCESS AMIDST NEWS OF A SHOCKING 42% DECLINE IN ADULT FEMALE CRABS AND MORE RECENT NEWS OF A RADICAL DECLINE OF 50% IN MARYLAND UPPER BAY OYSTER POPULATIONS.  IN ADDITION, THE BAY STATES MISSED THEIR CRITICAL FEDERALLY REQUIRED NITROGEN REDUCTIONS BY…Continue Reading

WATER POLLUTION TRADING: PAYING TO POLLUTE OUR WATERWAYS

But the environmental justice implications of water pollution trading are among the most troubling aspects of this approach. Industrial polluters that buy credits are often located in poorer communities and communities of color. By allowing these polluters to avoid controlling their own discharges and continue to dump waste into local waterways by relying on credits, water pollution trading schemes threaten the drinking water and public health of these nearby, vulnerable communities. Continue Reading

No More Bay Business As Usual

(Posted by Fred Tutman.)

(This is fourth in an ongoing series of posts on What’s It Going to Take?: A look at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)
Whats It Going to Take?

Who doesn’t want to see our Bay, rivers, or streams restored to health? So it raises the legitimate question of why something coveted by so many, continues to elude us? The irony is that virtually everybody wants clean water until they have to actually sacrifice or take proportional measures in order to get it. Sure, clean water is great as long we can win the next election, make the maximum profit on the next construction job, maintain the waterfront view, get jobs and economic development, and if nobody will get upset.
Continue Reading

Mitigation Madness

(Posted by Fred Tutman.)

The legend of Robin Hood is about a fabled band of brave outlaws in medieval England who took money from the rich under a repressive monarchy and redistributed it to the poor. Sounds like a good thing right? Take something from somebody who has too much and give it instead to somebody who has not enough. What could be wrong with that? Fast forward into reality on the Chesapeake Bay, the 21st century and the lopsided world of “net environmental impacts” where we can take a perfectly good and functioning wetlands site, turn it into a parking lot and then make up for it by restoring a wetlands half way across the state. Continue Reading