A colony of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) roosts on an uninhabited portion of Smith Island. A non-native species in the Chesapeake region, the brown pelican’s range has been expanding north into the Bay in recent decades. Once found only in the lower Bay, the birds can now be found breeding on islands in the mid-Bay in summer.
In the mid-20th century, widespread use of the pesticide DDT caused populations of many birds, including brown pelicans, to decline significantly. In 1970, the brown pelican was listed as an endangered species, but had recovered enough to be de-listed along its Atlantic Coast range in 1985 and throughout the rest of its range in 2009.
In 1987, only five known pairs of pelicans were nesting in the Chesapeake Bay region—by 2008, more than 1,000 pairs were nesting on Holland Island alone. Many experts credit the influx of pelican visitors to climate change: warmer weather and milder winters may be prompting the birds to expand the northernmost reaches of their range to include the Chesapeake Bay.
Image by Will Parson
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) has a unique role in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Program established the CAC in 1984 as a means for citizens to express their recommendations and concerns on the cleanup effort to our political leaders. The members—non-paid volunteers appointed by the Governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania; the Mayor of the District of Columbia; and the Board of the Directors of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay—reflect a sample of diverse stakeholders and bring their experiences and insights to the Chesapeake Executive Council.
Why would a group of volunteers with various perspectives take time off work and away from their families four times a year to travel throughout the region for meetings?
In search of information and solutions. The CAC members see themselves as the only independent citizen voice within the formal structure of Chesapeake Bay Program, and because of this, they feel they can and should speak openly and honestly about progress toward Bay watershed recovery.
The Bay Program relies on science to underpin policy. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee encourages the political will and support to aggressively pursue those polices that will recover our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
Over the years, the CAC has participated in the development of the Chesapeake Bay watershed agreements. For the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, the CAC advocated for land conservation, public engagement, reduction of toxins and political commitment to reduce nutrients going in rivers and the Bay. For the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the CAC again advocated for a toxic containment goal, environmental literacy, public access, local engagement and interim progress reports on meeting the goals.
In recent years, the CAC has focused on ways the Chesapeake Bay Program could enhance transparency and accountability. Our membership advocated for better verification of reported conservation practices and encouraged independent evaluation to highlight areas for improvement. We raised policy issues like nutrient trading, oysters, Conowingo Dam and environmental education. The CAC has called for continuous funding for environmental state and federal programs and highlighted federal funds that could accelerate progress.
Find out more about our group, by visiting the Citizens’ Advisory Committee page on the Bay Program website.
CAC Vice-Chair, Paula Jasinski, is a founder and principal of Chesapeake Environmental Communications and an appointment of the Virginia Governor.
Nahshon Forde, an operations assistant with the Anacostia Watershed Society, steers his kayak to shore after helping with a free paddle night organized by the AWS in Washington, D.C. "By doing paddle nights and things like that we’re helping people develop a relationship with the river, and that’s kind of a conveyor belt to a lot of our other ways to be involved with AWS," said Lee Cain, former Director of Recreation at AWS.
Historically overrun with pollution, the Anacostia is still plagued by litter, toxics and stormwater runoff. But the river is also home to a wealth of wildlife: deer silently approaching the water’s edge, egrets congregating in the shallows and bald eagles defending their nests.
In June 2014, the Anacostia Water Trail officially opened. This nine-mile water trail runs from Bladensburg, Maryland, through Washington, D.C., to where the Anacostia meets the Potomac River, passing by natural areas and recreation sites like Kenilworth Park, the National Arboretum, Kingman Island and Yards Park.
Image by Will Parson
According to fisheries experts, the Chesapeake Bay blue crab stock is not depleted and overfishing is not occurring. Nevertheless, experts recommend maintaining a risk-averse, or cautious, approach to blue crab management: just two years ago, adult female blue crabs were considered depleted. Even after a 183 percent rise in their population between 2014 and 2016, their numbers remain below target levels.
The 2016 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report was released by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC). It includes blue crab population and harvest data from Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, as well as expert recommendations on maintaining a sustainable blue crab fishery.
According to the report, the start of the 2016 crabbing season saw an estimated 194 million adult female blue crabs in the Bay. This marks a 92 percent increase from last year’s abundance of adult females, which the Chesapeake Bay Program tracks as part of its progress toward the goals and outcomes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Because adult female blue crab abundance is above the 70 million threshold, the blue crab stock is not considered depleted. And because just 15 percent of adult females were harvested in 2015—well below the 25.5 percent target—overfishing is not occurring.
“The blue crab population is at a healthy level,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Biologist and CBSAC Chair Glenn Davis in a media release. “It is encouraging to see adult females rebound from a depleted state… but that also serves as a reminder of how quickly things can change with this animal.”
In its report, CBSAC—which includes scientists and representatives from state agencies and academic institutions, as well as federal fisheries experts—recommends the improvement of harvest and fishing effort estimates, the jurisdictional coordination of complementary management measures and the evaluation of an allocation-based blue crab management framework. An allocation-based management framework would allocate an annual total allowable catch (TAC) of blue crabs for the Bay’s commercial and recreational fisheries among its three management jurisdictions: Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. The report recognizes the importance of future stock assessments in providing in-depth scientific guidance to support blue crab management.
“It’s great to see that the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population has increased over the past two years and we are close to achieving the target of 215 million adult female blue crabs outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office Director and Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team Chair Peyton Robertson in a media release. “The annual Advisory Report continues to provide valuable counsel for jurisdictional fishery managers as they work toward sustaining the blue crab population at that level over the long term.”