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Chesapeake Bay News: Restoration


Restoration Spotlight: From 'open sewer' to Class A trout stream

As the clear, cold waters of the Little Juniata River rush through the forests and farmland of central Pennsylvania, hidden spring holes and rocky boulders provide hideaways for the cautious brown trout. Above water, Bill Anderson is teaching longtime friend John Norton the basics of fly fishing, in the hopes of catching one of these popular sport fish. “Fly fishing provides a means to get to be in nature as a participant instead of a spectator,” Anderson describes. “You’re there actively seeking a target, in this case the trout. And there’s something very primal and addictive about the infrequent benefit that comes from standing in cold water and tossing a fly at a spot on the water where you think a fish is going to take it.”

The Little Juniata—or “Little J”—is a sanctuary for fly fishermen on the East Coast. Little-known to outsiders, it attracts fishermen from across the region who hope to catch brown trout in its cool waters. But just a few decades ago, fishing in the Little Juniata River seemed unthinkable. “Well, the Little Juniata River is not well-known nationally, primarily because it’s only been a trout stream since around 1975,” Anderson says. “The reason being that prior to that it was literally an open sewer.”

Bill Anderson, President of the Little Juniata River Association, catches a 15-inch wild brown trout in the Little Juniata River in Blair County, Pa., on May 19, 2015. The Little Juniata River Association has secured roughly five miles of permanent fishing access with help from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, and has implemented restoration projects to reduce sediment in the river.

A long history of pollution from municipal sources, nearby tanneries and a paper mill had degraded the river into what Anderson calls a “dead stream.” And after a mysterious pollution event in 1997 destroyed much of the waterway’s aquatic insect and invertebrate population—essentially starving the brown trout—the community had had enough. “We never determined the cause. But several local people got together who loved the river and decided that wasn’t going to happen again,” says Anderson, current president of the nonprofit organization that emerged: the Little Juniata River Association (LJRA).

Anderson attaches a fly after snagging his line while fishing the Little Juniata. He uses different lures based on what the fish are eating, which he determines by sampling the macroinvertebrates living in the water.

For a handful years after its foundation, the LJRA sat dormant: most of the few dozen members had drifted away and meetings were infrequent. But in the decade since Anderson became its president, the group has transformed nearly as much as the river itself. The purely-volunteer organization now boasts more than 200 members, and its mission includes not just monitoring of the river, but the improvement of the whole watershed. Activities range from restoring stream banks to protecting fish habitat. More than 1,400 feet of stream bank has been repaired to prevent excess sediment from entering the river, where it can block sunlight from reaching underwater plants and smother bottom-dwelling species. The nonprofit also hosts an annual trash pick-up, clearing 20 miles of riverbank of litter and debris.

Anderson shows a collection of his self-tied fly fishing lures. “All winter long I’m teaching fly tying classes to beginners and others,” Anderson said. “It keeps me going year-round.”

These days, the LJRA is focused on the future. With changing climate conditions come rising water temperatures, which can be devastating for the health of cold-water fish like brown trout. In association with Juniata College, the LJRA tagged 24 mature trout to determine where the fish go when water temperatures warm. “The idea is let the trout lead us to the places that need to be improved, and then we’ll set about improving those pieces and parts of the river, whether for spawning or for refuge from heat,” Anderson explains.

Anderson fishes with longtime friend John Norton in the Little Juniata River on May 19.

Just as important to Anderson as the health of the trout is the opportunity for others—like his friend Norton—to fish for them. In recent years, private fishing clubs have purchased and leased land along the river, requiring expensive memberships for fishermen to access the stream. But with help from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the LJRA has worked with landowners to establish more than five miles of permanent public fishing easements. “We’re not done,” says Anderson. “We won’t be done until all 32 miles of river are permanently publicly accessible. We want to make sure this resource stays open for our children and grandchildren.”

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

Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith

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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.


Photo Essay: Protecting Land in Otsego County - Ouleout Creek

Cat Gareth gathers water-polished stones on her property on Ouleout Creek in Delaware County, N.Y., on May 29, 2015. The property is in a conservation easement through Otsego Land Trust, which recently celebrated 10,000 acres conserved.

As the planet continues its steady climb toward an estimated 9.7 billion people by 2050, population centers are trending toward sprawling urban areas. Despite the convenience of metropolitan areas, the hustle and bustle of it all has many like Cat Gareth—owner of 14 acres of land along Ouleout Creek in Delaware County, New York—seeking solace in natural areas. She recalls the winter of 1988, when, as a resident of Brooklyn, she set out to find her own place of solitude. “I was looking at places by myself and pulled onto that piece of property and said, ‘This is it. This is the place.’”

A fly pollinates a flower near the edge of a stream running near Ouleout Creek on Gareth’s property in Delaware County, N.Y., on May 29, 2015.

The steeply wooded hillside and cobble-bottomed creeks of the property presented an opportunity for Gareth to examine and cherish often overlooked aspects of the local environment. “You could say that it was the architect of its own conservation because, by learning what it taught me, I came to value it enough to preserve it and allow it to evolve undisturbed and educate others,” Gareth said.

Gareth explores her property next to Ouleout Creek in Delaware County, N.Y., on May 29, 2015.

Gareth placed the property under conservation easement through the Otsego Land Trust in 2014 to ensure its protection for generations to come. “I am too close to the land to speak more formally about what this conservation easement will mean to this land's ecology, its water, its wildlife, the sustainability of this fragment of the natural world, but I do hope that it survives as what I have known it to be—a habitat for the human spirit.”

Native crayfish can be spotted easily on Gareth’s stretch of Ouleout Creek.

Amphibian eggs rest in a slow-moving stream on Gareth’s property.

Two ants cross paths on a log.

A caterpillar hangs on a leaf.

Crayfish claws rest on a rock, just above the water of Ouleout Creek on May 29, 2015. Remains of several individuals were probably leftovers from a raccoon.

Gareth examines the indentations on a rock in Ouleout Creek.

Gareth wades across Ouleout Creek to start the return home on May 29, 2015. It gets dark early on Gareth’s property, due to the steep slopes surrounding the creek.

This is the first of a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.

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

Photos by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente

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About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.


EPA assesses animal agriculture in three Bay states

Animal agriculture programs in Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia have had varying degrees of success as they work toward meeting pollution-reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay, according to evaluations released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA periodically reviews state programs and policies related to water quality, and these reviews are typically not focused solely on animal agriculture. But the agency chose to conduct individual animal agriculture assessments for the six Bay states to ensure each state has the programs, policies and resources they need to achieve the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

EPA found the states to be successful in certain areas: Maryland, for instance, was found to have a “robust and well-implemented state program.” But other aspects of the states' animal agriculture programs need further development—including improving data collection in Delaware and ensuring compliance with voluntary nutrient management plans in West Virginia.

Animal agriculture—such as poultry and livestock operations—can be a major source of pollution in the Bay. Excess nutrients and sediment have long impaired the estuary: nitrogen and phosphorous can fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms, while sediment can smother shellfish and block sunlight from reaching underwater plants. But practices like streamside fencing and proper management of animal manure can help prevent excess nutrients and sediment from reaching local waters.

Similar reports for animal agriculture programs in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia were released earlier this year.

The reports are available on the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL website.


By the Numbers: 35 million pounds

Blue crabs are one of the most recognized and oft-consumed species in the Chesapeake Bay. Watermen harvest the olive green, eight-legged crustacean with trotlines and crab pots so tourists and watershed natives alike can eat them at bars, restaurants and paper-covered picnic tables all summer long. But despite continued demand, the commercial harvest of blue crabs has dropped by two-thirds over the last two and a half decades.

Blue crabs are one of the most recognized species in the Chesapeake Bay. (Image by Sarah Hart Morgan/Shutterstock)

Since 1990, commercial watermen have harvested more than 1.6 billion pounds of blue crabs from the Bay. Data show commercial harvest has experienced a steady decline, and last year hit the lowest level recorded in 25 years: 35 million pounds.

The commercial harvest of blue crabs has dropped by two-thirds over the last two and a half decades. (Figure (“Total commercial blue crab landings (all market categories) in Chesapeake Bay, 1990-2014”) courtesy Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee)

Why was harvest so low? “A combination of factors,” said Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee Coordinator Emilie Franke. One factor that often affects harvest is the set of regulations put in place to conserve the population. Last season, Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission responded to relatively low blue crab abundance by putting additional commercial harvest regulations in place. But these regulations alone do not determine harvest levels. Low crab abundance can also lower harvest, making it harder for crabbers to catch crabs in the first place. In other words, the explanation could lay in the blue crab population and the host of factors that affect it. 

The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC) brings together scientists and representatives from the federal government, state governments and academic institutions. It meets each year to review the results of blue crab surveys and develop management advice.

“Chesapeake Bay blue crabs were considered depleted in 2014 due to low female abundance," Franke said. "But jurisdictions have harvested below the female exploitation target for seven consecutive years. So there are obviously other factors at play affecting population and harvest levels. A lot of these factors are things fishery managers can't control." 

Water quality and winter temperatures can affect the amount of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay. (Image by Jennifer White Maxwell/Shutterstock)

On the list? Natural variability, water quality, habitat quality, predator and prey abundance, disease, competition and overwintering mortality, all of which affect the amount of blue crabs in the Bay. (Overwintering mortality affected all segments of the blue crab population in 2015, for instance, and led to an estimated 15 percent drop in overall abundance.)

Tracking these factors—including those we can control—is critical to blue crab management. This is one reason accurate harvest reporting is so important. In its annual report on the status of the blue crab population, CBSAC recommended continued improvement in the quality of catch and fishing effort information submitted by commercial and recreational harvesters. Jurisdictions have explored new harvest technologies in recent years, and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement includes a commitment to improve harvest accountability.

The state of Maryland’s electronic harvest reporting pilot program is an example of new harvest reporting technology in action. While traditional paper-based reporting can be inefficient and prone to errors, electronic reporting can provide more timely, accurate and verifiable information to fishery managers. 

“Increased harvest accountability provides managers with an accurate picture of the fishery, which helps inform future management decisions,” Franke said. “Getting a better understanding of catch and fishing effort is a big priority.”

Learn more.

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.

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