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Chesapeake Bay News

Apr
10
2017

Five industries that benefit from a healthy Bay

A healthy Chesapeake Bay brings with it a multitude of benefits, including cleaner water for swimming and boating and habitat to support more fish and wildlife. But when Chesapeake Bay Program partners signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement in 2014, they committed to a vision for a wholly sustainable Bay: not just environmentally, but economically as well. Spanning six states and Washington D.C., the Chesapeake Bay region contains more than 18 million people who are all connected to the Bay and its waterways, and many of whom, in whether directly or indirectly, rely on the Bay’s contribution to the region’s economy. Below are five industries tied to a healthy Bay.

From left, Lance Bowlin, Chip Holcher and Simon Motture stand in a goose blind in Chestertown, Md., on Feb. 2, 2016. The group was led by hunting guide Greg Cole, not pictured.

Recreation and tourism

The Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams and the surrounding forests, mountains and outdoor sights are a huge draw to visitors, both watershed residents and those from out of the area. The region’s 55 National Park Service sites, scores of state parks, 15 wildlife refuges, 1,269 public access sites and hundreds of cultural areas draw millions of people to the outdoors each year to enjoy all these sites have to offer.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 16.5 million people in the states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia participated in wildlife-related recreation, such as hunting or bird-watching, in 2011. Furthermore, those people spent over $18 billion dollars on trip-related expenses, equipment and other needs.

Millions of visitors means a need for staff to operate the parks, guides to lead trips, outfitters to supply equipment, hotels to house visitors and so much more. Employers in recreation and tourism in the region support over 820,800 jobs and over $13 billion in income annually; another 20,000 self-employed participants also attribute to this industry.

While all of these parks and public access points are important, watershed residents don’t reap all the benefits if they are not healthy—which can in turn hurt local businesses. For example, chemical contaminants in the water can be ingested and carried by fish of all sizes, and subsequent fish consumption advisories can lead to fewer trips on the water and lost sales at gear shops. Similarly, a 2005 fish kill in the Shenandoah River, likely caused by poor water quality, led to an estimated $700,000 in lost retail sales and revenue.

Waterman Butch Walters harvests oysters using a power dredge in the waters north of Deal Island, Md., on March 31, 2017. In 2014, Maryland harvested almost two million poinds of oysters.

Commercial fishing

Commercial fishing has long been associated with the Chesapeake Bay. The iconic image of the Bay is of watermen out on the water, putting down crab pots or tonging for oysters. These aren’t just images, but real people doing real—and often difficult—jobs. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the fishing industry accounts for 7,952 jobs in the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Blue crabs are an important species that require clean water, abundant beds of underwater grasses and sufficient dissolved oxygen to survive. A healthy Bay not only supports the stability and growth of their population, but also supports a regional—and national—industry. In 2014, Maryland and Virginia accounted for over one-third of total blue crab landings revenue in the United States, totaling over $80 million.

Outside of the Bay itself are rivers and streams that are vital habitat to important species like striped bass. Also known as rockfish, striped bass return to the Bay each year to spawn in its freshwater tributaries, and are a prized up and down the East Coast for commercial and recreational fishing.

Along with oysters, blue crabs and striped bass, the Bay and its tributaries support fishing of scallops, black sea bass, menhaden, summer flounder and white perch—to name a few.

Rappahannock Oyster Company crew member Richard Burlingame shakes an oyster cage once against the side of the boat before it is lowered into the Rappahannock River in Topping, Va., on May 9, 2016. The business relies on the river to grow their oysters.

Aquaculture

Aquaculture, or underwater farming, is the growing of fish and shellfish in a controlled environment. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 137 aquaculture farms in Maryland and Virginia generated nearly $62 million in sales in 2013. Two-thirds of those farms were raising shellfish like clams and oysters and likely used the Bay and its tributaries to grow their stock. A clean Bay means healthy oyster habitat: the water needs to be clean enough to keep so that their oysters aren’t buried in sediment or exposed to other things that could weaken and kill them.

Aquaculture is a particularly large industry in Virginia, where in 2013, it made up over 30 percent of hard clam and Eastern oyster aquaculture sales in the U.S.

A barrel of steamed blue crabs awaits consumption on the dock in Tylerton, Md., after being harvested on an educational trip for a group of foresters visiting Smith Island on Oct. 28, 2014.

Seafood industry

Outside of the growing or catching of fish is an entire industry situated to support it. Distributors transport fish to supermarkets, canning facilities and restaurants that turn around and sell that food to consumers. Some fish is processed and turned into other products such as fish oils and pet food. From processors and dealers to wholesale and distributors, the seafood industry contributes to over 24,000 jobs in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

With more and more people wanting to buy local food, supermarkets and restaurants both on the Bay and throughout the region benefit from having an abundance of watermen and commercial fisheries nearby.

But the process doesn’t end at the table. Organizations like the Oyster Recovery Partnership collect oyster shells and return them to the Bay and its tributaries to help bolster and rebuild oyster reefs. While baby oysters can grow on a number of surfaces, they prefer to attach to oyster shells, so recycling old shell is the best way to promote reef growth. And since oysters are filter feeders—meaning they help clean the Bay’s water as they eat and grow—more oysters means a cleaner Bay and a stronger seafood industry.

The Moorefield Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia, like many regional plants, have been hard at work upgrading their plants to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment in the water they clean. In fact, the sector already met their Watershed Agreement goals—almost a decade early.

Water utilities

Restoring the Bay’s health means reducing the amount of pollutants like nutrients and sediment in the rivers and streams that empty into the Bay. But sending cleaner water to the Bay also means sending cleaner water to utility companies and wastewater treatment plants. By reducing the amount of pollutants in the water, water utility companies reduce costs needed to bring water up to standards. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that for every $1 spent of source-water protection, $27 were saved in water treatment costs.

One of a utility’s biggest costs is removing coagulants—sediment—from the water. A Brooking’s Institute study found that a one percent decrease in sediment in the water can lead to a 0.05 percent decrease in treatment costs. If there is less sediment in the water, then companies can save money on treatment and focus it instead on infrastructure upgrades and other projects. Potentially, those savings will be passed down to consumers through a lower water bill.

 

The list of businesses and sectors that benefit from a healthy Bay does not end here. Watermen buy fishing equipment, charter boats require service and tourists who visit the area spend their money in hotels, shops and restaurants. Restoring the Chesapeake Bay is good for the critters that live in its watershed, but it’s also good for us.

Does your work benefit from a healthy Bay? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by Will Parson and Steve Droter

Joan Smedinghoff's avatar
About Joan Smedinghoff - Joan is the Communications Office Staffer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. Originally from Chicago, she was introduced to the Chesapeake Bay region through the streams of central Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where she first discovered her passion for storytelling.



Apr
07
2017

Photo of the Week: Eastern hognose snake uses deception as a defense

Three Eastern hognose snakes exhibit mating behavior at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, on April 2, 2017. Native throughout most of the Chesapeake Bay region, the varied coloring of the Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) can make it difficult to identify, but the characteristic upturned scale at the tip of the snake’s nose is a foolproof indicator.

Despite their tendency to be confused for the venomous cottonmouth, Eastern hognose snakes almost never bite and are quite docile. In fact, only a few bites from the species have ever been documented, with many of them accidental: in one case, a snake’s tooth caught the victim’s arm while the snake was playing dead.

That type of bluffing behavior is another distinctive way to identify the Eastern hognose. Also called the “puff adder,” the snakes have a unique way of confronting predators. When approached, an Eastern hognose will suck in air and spread the skin around its head and neck to mimic a cobra’s hood. If that doesn’t work, the snake will play dead by rolling onto its back and opening its mouth, remaining limp for several minutes. If left undisturbed, it will eventually glance around for the predator, and if the coast is clear, turn right-side-up and wriggle away.

Although secretive and seldom seen, the number of Eastern hognose snakes is fairly stable; however, certain populations have shown declines in areas of high development. Places like Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary and other protected lands can serve as a haven for these and other species. Jug Bay in particular is home to a multitude of species, including rare and uncommon species like bald eagles and least bitterns. Work by Chesapeake Bay Program partners to conserve undeveloped land—particularly the woodlands and coastal areas preferred by the Eastern hognose—can help protect not only these snakes, but countless other wildlife species.

Image by Will Parson

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.



Apr
04
2017

By the Numbers: 110,701

In a watershed whose population has expanded by more than eight million people in the last 50 years, protecting land while allowing urban and suburban growth can pose a challenge. But one piece of Maryland’s land protection puzzle has proven successful in protecting forests and, according to some, could provide guidance to other regions interested in keeping trees on land that is threatened by residential development. 

The Maryland Forest Conservation Act fosters forest retention and replanting during development. It has had a significant and positive effect on Maryland’s forest cover.

The Maryland Forest Conservation Act was passed under Governor William Donald Schaefer in late 1991 and implemented at the local level by county and municipal governments in 1993. It was designed to reduce forest loss following development and is the only statewide forest conservation regulation in the nation to focus on forest retention and replanting during the construction permitting process.

The Act affects those who propose land use changes on properties of one acre and greater in size and that require a subdivision approval, grading permit or sediment control permit: for example, a homeowner who wants to add a new residence to his property or a developer who wants to build a subdivision. These landowners must work with a licensed forester, licensed landscape architect or other qualified professional to submit their plans to protect trees during construction and to mitigate construction by retaining a portion of existing forest cover or by planting new trees.

By its nature as a required rather than optional regulation, the Act affects and engages a wide swath of landowners in planting trees and protecting land. “We’re more restrictive here [in Maryland than in other states] on what happens [to land] during development. There are a lot of environmental laws at the local level and at the state level that you need in order to get your building permits. Other states aren’t that way,” said Marian Honeczy, Urban & Community Forestry Programs Manager with the Maryland Forest Service.

Some landowners have argued against planting new trees when their proposed developments don’t involve removing them. But as Honeczy explains, the Act was meant to engage everyone in the work of environmental conservation. “Governor Schaefer felt that everyone should bear the burden of protecting the Bay, since we’re all sharing the benefits. It didn’t matter if you had a forested site or a farm field [slated for development]. Everyone had to comply with the law.”

That said, not everyone bears the same burden. Different zoning categories have different afforestation and reforestation thresholds and different forest retention amounts. In other words, those developing a farm field may have to plant fewer trees than those developing a woodlot. “But you’re still planting trees,” Honeczy said.

Healthy forests protect clean air and water and provide food and habitat to wildlife.

Healthy forests are critical to a healthy Chesapeake Bay: they protect clean air and water and provide food and habitat to wildlife. (For this reason, the Chesapeake Bay Program has committed to expanding urban tree canopy by 2,400 acres by 2025.) And for Honeczy, the Forest Conservation Act has “more than accomplished” its intended goal of conserving forests in the face of development. Indeed, research suggests the regulation has had a significant and positive effect on Maryland’s forest cover, and the numbers seem to agree: In the first 20 years of the Forest Conservation Act, 110,701 acres of forest land were put under protection from development. That area is two and a half times bigger than Washington, D.C.!

The Act does face challenges—in the form of finite land and finite funding—but it was “never intended to be the sole answer for all of our forest cover and urban tree issues,” Honeczy said. Just as protecting forests was not intended to be a burden on the shoulders of one landowner, it was also not intended to be a burden on the shoulders of one law, one program or one state agency.

Whether it is through the Woodland Incentive Program—which provides cost-share assistance for tree planting and timber stand improvement on forests between five and 1,000 acres in size—the Lawn to Woodland program—which fully funds the conversion of one- to four-acre lawns to forests—or the Marylanders Plant Trees program—which provides coupons to homeowners who want to purchase trees to plant—the Maryland Forest Service and their partners across the state will continue to connect anyone who wants to plant a tree with people and programs that will help them do so.

“Trees do so much in a cheap, efficient way to protect the Bay,” Honeczy said. “And every person can plant a tree on their property.”

Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Program’s work to expand urban tree canopy and protect land from development.

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.



Mar
31
2017

Photo of the Week: Spring peepers perform seasonal serenade

A spring peeper’s throat swells as it makes its signature call in a vernal pool at Kings Gap State Park in Thurmont, Pennsylvania, on March 25, 2016. As its name implies, the spring peeper’s “peeping” call is one of the first signs of spring in the Chesapeake region.

Calling the sound a “peep” might make it seem like a small, subdued noise. In actuality, the call has been likened to a car alarm—and when hundreds of frogs sing in a single location, as they often do, the noise can be almost deafening. A high-quality call is extremely important during breeding season, as it influences which mate a female will choose.

In early spring, the arrival of vernal pools spurs peepers to mate. Vernal pools are temporary ponds, fed by snow, rain or groundwater and blanketed in leaves from a healthy forest. They only last for a handful of months each year, but stay wet long enough to host a multitude of breeding frogs, toads and salamanders. Because the pools aren’t directly connected to a waterway, they’re free from the fish that would otherwise prey on amphibian eggs and larvae.

While best-known for their springtime symphonies, spring peepers spend the rest of the year on land. Their dependence on marshy woodlands for habitat makes spring peepers particularly vulnerable to the loss of forests and wetlands. Work by Chesapeake Bay Program partners to conserve land across the watershed provides habitat not only peepers, but other wildlife that live in the region.

Image by Will Parson

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.



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