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Chesapeake Bay News


Blue crab stock considered sustainable, despite population decline

Fisheries experts have encouraged Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission to take a cautious approach to blue crab management as they set harvest regulations for the coming year. In the annual Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report, these experts note that while the 2016 female blue crab harvest was lower than regulations require and the 2017 adult female blue crab population was above what is considered a healthy level, the overall blue crab population fell almost 18 percent in 2017.

In 2016, an estimated 16 percent of female blue crabs were harvested from the Chesapeake Bay. Experts say the stock is not depleted and overfishing is not occurring, but advise a cautious approach to blue crab management.

The Blue Crab Advisory Report is published by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC): a team of federal fisheries experts and scientists and representatives from state agencies and academic institutions. It is meant to provide resource managers with scientific data and advice.

According to the report, the start of the 2017 crabbing season saw an estimated 254 million adult female crabs in the Bay: a 31 percent increase from last year’s adult female blue crab abundance. Because this number is above the 215 million target and the 70 million threshold, the blue crab stock is not considered depleted. And because only 16 percent of the female blue crab population was harvested in 2016—which is below the 25.5 percent target and the 34 percent overfishing threshold—overfishing is not occurring. However, the overall blue crab population fell from 553 million to 455 million between 2016 and 2017.

“The highly variable nature of blue crabs was on full display this past year,” said CBSAC Chair Glenn Davis in a media release. “The largest abundance of spawning females from the Winter Dredge Survey time series was great news, and demonstrated what can happen when jurisdictions adhere to science-based management. The low recruitment [or number of young crabs entering the adult population] served as a reminder that large inter-annual fluctuations can be part of the norm and that managing blue crabs is a continuous challenge.”

In its report, CBSAC recommends:

  • A cautious, risk-averse approach to managing blue crabs. This could include scaling back fall fishery regulations in order to ensure more young crabs survive to spawn next season.
  • Improving the accuracy of tracking commercial and recreational crab harvests and exploring new reporting technologies.
  • Addressing specific research questions and discussing the timing, rationale and resources for future assessments of the blue crab stock to provide in-depth analyses of the blue crab population, fishery and management.

“The annual Blue Crab Advisory Report provides valuable data analysis and recommendations to the agencies that manage crabs here in the Bay to help them make scientifically informed decisions regarding our beloved—and valuable—blue crabs,” said Chesapeake Bay Program Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team Chair Sean Corson in a media release. “The science it features enables us to enjoy crabs…today and in future years.”

Learn more.


Restoration Spotlight: Monarchs and communities share common ground

At many points on its famously long eastern migration route from central Mexico to Canada, the monarch butterfly faces the perils of habitat loss. As a result, its population has declined by over 90 percent since the 1990s. Efforts to save the striking orange insect range from the unique forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacàn to the “Monarch Highway” in the Midwest—and all the way to the urban communities of South Baltimore.

For many city residents of neighborhoods like Brooklyn and Curtis Bay, the monarch was already effectively gone. But with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) through a Five Star Urban Waters Grant, the Monarch Butterfly Community Conservation Program began last fall with the goal to engage hundreds of volunteers, students and Baltimore community members in the planting of habitat for the butterfly. The program builds on existing efforts by partnering organizations to reconnect communities with their green spaces.

A monarch butterfly visits a milkweed plant in Queen Anne’s County, Md., on July 15, 2016. Milkweed is the host plant for monarchs—it is the only plant it will lay eggs on and the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat.

“The National Wildlife Federation and the National Aquarium have been working in communities around Baltimore for quite some time, creating native habitat through residential gardens and church gardens and community gardens,” said Gabrielle Roffe, conservation community coordinator at the National Aquarium. “This grant program was sort of a natural progression, to engage more open community spaces in schools.”

Roffe said that creating native habitat for the monarchs would help connect local residents with an international conservation issue.

“What we’re working to do is create a full-fledged education program to really empower the students to take ownership of these green spaces and understand the ‘why’ behind these gardens,” Roffe said.

The program began last August on an island in the Chesapeake Bay that might have disappeared beneath the water had its own decline not been reversed. Poplar Island—shrunk like other Chesapeake islands by the forces of sea level rise, sinking land and increasingly frequent strong storms before being restored to its historical footprint—now supports large patches of common milkweed, the primary host plant of the monarch. Partners from National Aquarium and Living Classrooms Foundation harvested the seeds along with staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This spring, the milkweed seeds got a head start in a new greenhouse at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, being grown with help from the Living Classrooms Foundation. The National Park Service also partnered with the program to plant some of the monarch gardens on their lands, such as at Fort McHenry National Monument.

“Then the National Wildlife Federation and the National Aquarium, we are the partners who are on the ground in the community, running the education programs and planting the gardens with the community members and the schools,” Roffe said.

In April, students from Benjamin Franklin High School in the nearby neighborhood of Brooklyn gathered at the Masonville Cove greenhouse for the first planting under the program. Roffe showed them how to remove the plants from their containers and use trowels to work them into raised beds. Digging alongside the students was their science teacher, Hillary Clayton.

Students from Benjamin Franklin High School plant native perennials to benefit pollinators at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore in April. Students planted milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants in a garden at the center under a program led by the National Aquarium and funded through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“Masonville Cove has been an unbelievable resource for my classes and fantastic for my kids to experience,” Clayton said.
Once neglected and laden with trash and toxic chemicals, Masonville Cove’s 54 acres of land and 70 acres of water now support an array of wildlife, including wetlands, an osprey nest, an artificial oyster reef and a native meadow.

“You can say it a million times in a classroom but they don’t really understand it until they come out here and see it. It’s just been really powerful for them,” Clayton said. “They can see exactly what their actions do and what kind of things they can prevent.”

Clayton grew additional native plants in lush trays beneath glowing lamps in her classroom earlier this year. The school was one of several to plant a habitat garden under the program. Though the gardens are still young, previous plantings suggest what Benjamin Franklin and the other schools can expect from their new gardens.

“When you build it, they will come. We’ve planted a lot of gardens in local urban communities and seen that once you start planting, local species start coming back,” Roffe said. “We’ve gotten calls from residents, saying, ‘The monarchs are here! The monarchs are here!’”

Roffe understands the experiences are special because of where they’re taking place.

“The joy on their faces is just really incredible because people are dealing with a lot on a daily basis, especially in these neighborhoods,” Roffe said. “Knowing that they have had a contribution to bring such an iconic species back into Brooklyn and Curtis Bay and other neighborhoods that they haven’t seen these species in who knows how many years—that’s where you really see the biggest impact.”

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.

Video, photos and text by Will Parson

Will Parson's avatar
About Will Parson - Will is the Multimedia Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of Bakersfield, California, he acquired an interest in photojournalism while studying ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He pursued stories about water and culture as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and as an intern at several newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.


Photo of the Week: Research meets recreation at Monie Bay

Marion Clement, executive director of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership, listens for bird callbacks during a marsh bird monitoring survey conducted by Maryland Department of Natural Resources at Monie Bay in Somerset County, Maryland, on June 15, 2017.

Along with Otter Point Creek in Harford County and Jug Bay in Anne Arundel County, Monie Bay is a component of Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR). CBNERR Maryland protects and manages the three sites—which encompass more than 6,000 acres of land and water—to serve as living laboratories for research on issues facing the Chesapeake Bay. (Across the state line, CBNERR Virginia manages more than 3,000 acres at four sites.)

With limited nearby development, Monie Bay’s relatively pristine conditions have made it host to numerous studies on the health and function of marshes. Researchers like Clement monitor marsh bird populations to study their current status and document potential changes. Other researchers use surface elevation tables, or SETs, to measure changes in marsh elevation, helping to estimate wetland resilience against sea level rise. Staff and volunteers also monitor water quality, study marsh vegetation and band barn owls.

As a vast, undisturbed natural area, Monie Bay also offers abundant opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, through kayaking, fishing, hiking and more. But due in part to its remote location, public use of the reserve is fairly infrequent. To boost visits to Monie Bay, Clement—through her previous work as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps intern—spearheaded the creation of a network of three water trails. With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Clement and others installed directional signs down nine miles of tidal creeks, which guide visitors along a unique view of Monie Bay’s salt marsh habitat.

Image by Skyler Ballard

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.


New guide aims to help local agencies increase green infrastructure in parks

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a new guide to help cities and towns increase green infrastructure in their local parks.

Controlling stormwater runoff can be a challenge in urban areas, where a high level of hard surfaces like roads, sidewalks and buildings prevent water from soaking into the soil. Instead, water is funneled into storm drains, usually after picking up pollutants such as motor oil and fertilizers. Fast-moving runoff that is exiting storm drains into local waterways can also erode stream banks.

Yards Park is situated along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail in Washington, D.C. The park used green infrastructure elements such as bioretention, rain gardens and cisterns to improve stormwater management and benefit water quality in the Anacostia River. (Photo by Will Parson)

Green infrastructure—such as rain gardens, green roofs and pervious pavement—uses soil and vegetation to help slow the flow of runoff and manage rainwater where it falls. By capturing stormwater onsite and allowing it to slowly infiltrate back into the soil, green infrastructure can help prevent erosion and keep pollution from entering storm drains. When used in parks, green infrastructure can add recreational, educational, aesthetic and economic benefits as well. Amenities such as pervious biking trails create more reasons for residents to use parks; features such as native rain gardens and trees not only help control stormwater, but are also attractive; and improved drainage and the use of native plants reduce maintenance costs.

The step-by-step guide provides tips for identifying, funding and partnering on green infrastructure projects, including:

  • identifying and engaging partners,
  • building relationships,
  • leveraging funds,
  • identifying green infrastructure opportunities,
  • planning for maintenance, and
  • creating pilot projects.

A number of case studies and photos are also included, illustrating how nongovernmental organizations and federal, state and local governments partnered to incorporate green infrastructure into parks across the country.

The guide, “Green Infrastructure in Parks: A Guide to Collaboration, Funding, and Community Engagement,” is available online.

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