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Bay Health

Scientists evaluate the Chesapeake Bay’s health by monitoring important habitats, fish and shellfish, and water quality measures. These indicators are useful tools to gauge the overall health of the Bay and the animals that live in it.

The Bay’s health has slowly improved in some areas. However, the ecosystem remains in poor condition. The Bay continues to have polluted water, degraded habitats, and low populations of many fish and shellfish species.

Habitats and Lower Food Web

Overall, the Bay’s habitats and lower food web remain far below what is needed to support thriving populations of underwater life.

  • Bay Grasses: In 2013, there were an estimated 59,927 acres of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay achieving 32 percent of the 185,000-acre goal.
  • Bottom Habitat: In 2012, 45 percent of the Bay and its tidal tributaries met the bottom habitat goal.
  • Tidal Wetlands: As of 2010, there were approximately 282,291 acres of tidal wetlands in the Bay region.

Fish and Shellfish

Many of the Bay’s fish and shellfish populations are suffering due to pollution, diseases, overharvesting and lack of food and habitat.

  • Blue Crabs: The abundance of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay decreased to 68.5 million in 2014, compared with 147 million in 2013.
  • Oysters: A new oyster health indicator will be developed in the future.
  • Adult Striped Bass: Female striped bass spawning stock biomass measured 128 million pounds in 2012.
  • Juvenile Striped Bass: In 2014, the relative abundance of juvenile striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay was about equal to average historic values. In Maryland, the striped bass  juvenile abundance index was 4.06. In Virginia, the index was 11.37.
  • American Shad: American shad abundance in the Bay in 2013 was 41 percent of the goal.
  • Atlantic Menhaden: The menhaden abundance index in 2012 increased to the highest peak in the last decade.

Water Quality

The Bay’s water quality remains very poor. Too much pollution flows to the Bay and its streams, creeks and rivers.

  • Water Quality Standards Achievement: Results of the 2011-2013 assessment period indicate that 29 percent of the water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, water clarity/underwater grasses and chlorophyll for the Chesapeake Bay were met during this time.
  • Chemical Contaminants: Based on the 2012 303(d) assessments of 92 tidal segments analyzed 74 percent had partial or full impairments due to chemical contaminants.
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