Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question came from Drew, who wants to know: “Why is the Chesapeake Bay so important?”
It seems like such a small question, but it’s a big one that a lot of people are asking right now with all of the new regulations going into place to help protect and restore this “national treasure.”
The question is multi-faceted, but it begins with the fact that the Chesapeake Bay is the largest of 130 estuaries in the United States. Estuaries are some of the most productive environments on the planet because they provide a wide variety of habitats that support thousands of species of animals and plants. The habitats that estuaries provide (including spawning and nursery grounds) are estimated to be responsible for 80 to 90 percent of America's recreational fish catch and more than 75 percent of the commercial fish catch.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed, the area of land that drains to the Bay, includes parts of six states and all of the District of Columbia. Nearly 17 million people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and affect its health in ways they may not even realize. In addition to housing millions of people and more than 3,600 species of animals and plants, the Chesapeake is home to two of the five major shipping ports in the North Atlantic: Baltimore and Hampton Roads.
The Bay provides important economic resources, including crabs, oysters and rockfish, as well as recreational and educational experiences in and around the water. But people, especially those who are removed from it, continue to ask why they should care about the Bay.
There’s a pretty good chance that if you live in the watershed, you benefit from the Bay in one way or another. But sometimes it helps to think of the health of your local waterways instead. Do you like to go swimming, fishing, boating or bird-watching on your local creek, stream or river? Do you want that body of water polluted, unhealthy, unproductive and potentially dangerous? Probably not.
These are the same issues the Bay is facing, but on a larger scale. With the land used by almost 17 million people all draining to this one estuary, the wildlife that depends on it is quite literally suffocating, causing economic resources to dwindle and recreational activities to be limited.
The Chesapeake Bay, due to its sheer size and scope, could be an example for estuaries around the country and around the world, for better or worse. Every action we take on the land affects our local streams and rivers, and ultimately the Bay, so it’s up to us to take the correct actions – ones that will help, rather than hurt, an already-degraded ecosystem.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events.
The number of young striped bass in Maryland waters in 2010 was below average for the third straight year, while in Virginia the amount of young striped bass was once again above average, according to juvenile striped bass surveys by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).
In Maryland, samplers collected an average of 5.6 young striped bass per haul, below the long-term average of 11.6 fish per haul. This is the third consecutive year of below average striped bass production in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay.
In Virginia, nine fish were collected per haul, compared with the historic average of 7.5 fish per haul. Striped bass stocks in Virginia have exhibited average or above average recruitment since 2003.
Each summer, biologists monitor how successful striped bass reproduction was the previous spring by collecting fish samples from major striped bass spawning areas. In Maryland, biologists sample 22 survey sites on the Choptank, Potomac and Nanticoke rivers and in the upper Chesapeake Bay, while in Virginia, biologists sample at 18 stations on the York, James and Rappahannock rivers.
To sample an area, biologists deploy a 100-foot-long seine net from the shore and count all of the fish species collected in the net. The number of striped bass collected at these sites provides an estimate of how successful striped bass spawning was during the current year. This is important because as much as 90 percent of the Atlantic striped bass population may use the Chesapeake Bay as a spawning and nursery area.
Biologists with Maryland DNR say it is normal for the success of annual spawning to vary because striped bass reproduction is influenced by water temperature, winter snowfall, spring flow rates, weather conditions and many other factors.
Despite state-by-state variations, the striped bass population remains above the management action trigger set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Likewise, the number of adults in the Atlantic coast population and levels of fishing are well within healthy limits as set by the ASMFC.
A new oyster partnership in Virginia will bring watermen, scientists, businesses and citizens together to help restore the Chesapeake Bay’s oysters while creating jobs at the same time.
The Oyster Company of Virginia (OCVA) will train watermen to become oyster farmers and equip them with cages, oyster seed and other supplies to raise oysters on leased areas of the Bay’s bottom. The watermen will be paid to plant the oyster seed, then harvest and sell the adult oysters.
To help pay for the project, citizens and businesses can join OCVA at a cost of $175 per oyster cage. Members will be able to follow online the status of the cages they fund.
OCVA hopes another aspect of the project – building artificial oyster reefs in sanctuaries that are protected from harvest – will eventually remove enough nitrogen from the Bay to become part of a nutrient trading program to meet pollution reductions needed for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.
The OCVA formed in August in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. OCVA founding members, which include representatives from the Virginia Watermen’s Association, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Company, hope to lead Virginia away from purchasing the majority of its oyster supply from the Gulf of Mexico and toward restoring the Virginia oyster industry and the health of the Bay.
For more information, visit the Oyster Company of Virginia’s website at www.oysterva.com.
If you have been to Tangier Island, feel free to skip this post. However, if you were like me and planned on visiting forever but never got around to it, read on, my friend.
I had the opportunity to join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation a few weekends ago on their venture out to Port Isobel, just east of Tangier Island. The foundation was conducting a weekend workshop for students who graduated from their VOICES program; I just tagged along to shoot some pics.
Let me start by saying that the sunrises and sunsets are ridiculous! As a photographer, I wouldn’t say my favorite genre is shooting these types of landscapes. But honestly, you can’t help it at Tangier.
The first thing that came to mind when I walked onto the island itself was, “Wow, no way does a mix of Pleasantville and the 1950s still exist like this in the world.” Contrary to my assumptions, it does.
Now, granted I am only 23 and thus my previous statement is void (being as that I never saw the 1950s), I still concluded that this is one of the most unique places I have ever been. The island is home to about 500 residents and almost as many golf carts. Throw in the population of cats, and you have yourself a pretty populated little town.
The main street is a continuous line of crab shacks. It’s incredible. Many commercial watermen still call Tangier home. The question is, for how long?
I had the pleasure of meeting a local from Tangier, Captain Charles, who walked me around the island and talked to me about Tangier’s past, present, and future. He said he could trace his family roots on Tangier back to the 1700s.
With the erosion that is slowly eating away at the island, and the number of residents moving to the mainland, it makes you question how much longer this unique and special culture can continue to exist. When you add on regulations for watermen and increasing costs involved with the industry, it begs the question… does Tangier Island have the ability to sustain itself?
You’ve probably seen the ESPN commercials that feature Tangier Island. The locals seem extremely appreciative of tourism and the support that comes from it. However, tourists come to see why the island is unique, and with the loss of the watermen and crabbing culture, that uniqueness may continue to slip.
Despite all that, you would think the folks on the island don’t have a care in the world. They are an extremely friendly group of people that are proud of their heritage and the land they grew up on.
I strongly suggest making a trip out to Tangier Island if you have a weekend, or even a night, to spare. There are several bed and breakfasts on the island where you can stay. The heritage museum is a must-see as well; the works from a few “artists in residence” are more than worth checking out.