The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) will set aside more than 1,000 acres of state-owned water bottom to help expand clam and oyster farming, a practice that benefits both the Chesapeake Bay’s health and the state’s economy.
VMRC is expected in January to approve the creation of 15 new “aquaculture opportunity zones”: hard-bottom areas located in clean, shallow waters that serve as nursery areas for fish and crabs. About half of the total acreage is located around Tangier Island, while the rest is located in the Rappahannock River and the tributaries of Mobjack Bay.
“These are excellent locations for the farming of oysters and clams in on-bottom cages,” said Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Doug Domenech. “Shellfish have an amazing ability to purge the water, which will help clean the Bay, and the economic benefits from an expanded aquaculture industry are potentially quite substantial. This is a win-win.”
Aquaculture is a booming, multi-million dollar industry in Virginia. Oyster gardening under private piers and along the shoreline of privately owned waterfront property is becoming increasingly popular.
VMRC will waive the normal costs to lease water bottoms for private oyster growing in the new aquaculture opportunity zones. There will also be a streamlined permitting process and a simple application. The zones will be divided up into a maximum of 5-acre blocks and assigned on a first-come, first-served basis to any Virginia resident.
“We want people to take advantage of this exciting opportunity, especially commercial oystermen,” said VMRC Fisheries Chief Jack Travelstead. “Shellfish aquaculture is more dependable than going out and catching oysters, and reduces pressure on our wild stocks that have been suffering under the pressure of two oyster diseases.”
Visit VMRC’s website to learn more about the new aquaculture opportunity zones.
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) is installing real-time monitoring stations on 10 streams in the upper Susquehanna River watershed to collect data that may be used in the future to evaluate the effects of drilling on local streams.
Each monitoring station will be equipped with sensors that can detect subtle changes in water temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductance and water clarity. The stations also record water depth so establish a relationship with stream flows.
The new monitoring stations will be installed in December, and data will be available starting January 1 on SRBC’s website.
Given the public’s concern about natural gas drilling in the Marcellus shale, SRBC is trying to record the health of streams in the upper Susquehanna River as quickly as possible, according to SRBC Executive Director Paul Schwartz.
“Knowing background conditions is how water managers determine if changes in a particular stream are normal for that area or the result of possible pollution events,” Schwartz said.
For example, salt used to de-ice roads can increase conductivity in streams. This activity is not related to natural gas drilling, but elevated conductance levels could be presumed to be the result of drilling. Learning about the factors that currently affect the health of streams will help scientists determine if future changes are typical or unusual.
The 10 stream watersheds cover 12 counties: Allegany, Broome, Chemung, Cortland, Madison, Oneida, Otsego, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties in New York and Bradford and Susquehanna counties in Pennsylvania.
The monitoring stations will become part of SRBC’s Remote Water Quality Monitoring Network, which provides environmental protection officials with early warnings to help them better pinpoint and respond more quickly to changes in the health of streams.
SRBC has already installed 27 monitoring stations, mostly in northern Pennsylvania, where drilling in the Marcellus shale is most active, as well as other locations where no drilling is planned for control data.
Visit SRBC’s website for more information about real-time water quality monitoring on the Susquehanna River.
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 Raymond, who asked, “Can I get eelgrass planted in Kingscote Creek at my cottage? Would this grow in a sandy bottom?”
We often receive questions about what species of bay grasses and plants would grow best in certain environments at people’s houses. There are a variety of resources out there to help you learn about the growth requirements of different species of bay grasses
As far as eelgrass goes, our field guide entry was helpful in answering Raymond’s question. Eelgrass is found in the middle and lower Bay, south of the Eastern Shore’s Honga River, meaning that Raymond’s location in Virginia’s Kingscote Creek should be a safe place to plant eelgrass. Eelgrass can grow in a variety of areas, from shallow and sandy to deep and muddy bottoms. There does not appear to be any reason Raymond should not be able to plant eelgrass near his cottage in Virginia.
One good resource for finding out about bay grasses is the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It has a wealth of information about bay grasses in the Chesapeake Bay, the different species found in the Bay, and bay grass restoration. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources also has an extensive bay grasses section on its website.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question ofthe 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.