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Back to the Water

That’s a drive sweeping Chesapeake Country

      In the pantheon of nature religions, Chesapeake Bay would be a god. This big Bay gives this place its weather. Its rivers and creeks infiltrate the land, giving it shape and culture. 
      God Chesapeake nourishes thousands of species, maybe more, that make their lives in the water. It draws flocks of species of the air, and migrations of species of the land.
       For many of those species, including us humans, returning to the water is an irresistible drive, biological and psychological. 
      For months that feel like winter to people, fish have been returning to their natal waters to spawn. In his weekly column, Dennis Doyle chronicles their activity, starting with yellow perch. We call it The Sporting Life, but for Bay Weekly readers who stay indoors in cold months, it’s a vicarious connection to nature.
       The drive that sends fish into our waters, breeding and eating, in turn awakens human drives, as many of the people of Chesapeake Country set their ritual clocks by the return of one species or another. 
       With the Bay full of rockfish, many of them giants returned to spawn, the opening of trophy rockfish season sets countless anglers after them. Angling for those fish is a drive that obsesses humans and enriches the Bay economy.
      Much of Chesapeake fishing is recreational nowadays, but for most of the Bay’s human history, working watermen harvested the fish for a living — and to feed people far and wide who never touched the water.
      This time of year that culture survives in the ­crabber, who is already setting his traps. In communities around the Bay, including my Fairhaven neighborhood, we see them returning to the water. 
       Another species of waterman, the oysterman, has just retreated from the water, as Chesapeake oystering has a winter season — except for the newer breed of aquaculturists who raise oysters all year long. Just as oyster harvesting closes on the Bay, oyster-planting season opens. Oyster-restoring neighbors all over Chesapeake Country are now setting out new generations of baby oysters. 
       As I write, Chesapeake Bay Foundation has planted a new reef in the Severn River to see if a more vertical structure of reef balls can help keep oxygen flowing to the oysters and their colonists there. Writer Bob Melamud will be telling us more about that experiment in upcoming issues.
      Underwater grasses are another marine species returning to the Bay, as you’ll read in this week’s story on the good news of the past year’s annual survey conducted by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. Like oysters, crabs and fish, grasses are natives much affected by human pressure. So there’s great hope that human action in ways better for the Bay is helping in their restoration. 
       One sure way of helping, the Bay Gardener writes in this week’s column, is keeping sediment and nutrients on the land and out of the water. He explains the role compost should play in sediment berms wherever earth is exposed.
       For many of the ways humans return to the water, we need boats. Those boats are coming out of hibernation this month, as boaters of all sorts heed their drive to return to the water. Marinas are as busy as osprey — another species driven to return to the Chesapeake: unwrapping, scraping, painting, refitting, hauling — and fine-tuning after that maiden voyage. Of course all boaters hope that their boat takes age and weather better than the once-elegant Trumpy-built Counterpoint you’ll read about in this week’s pages.
      With so many drives calling you back to the water, I hope you find time to read this week’s paper. One of my return-to-the water pleasures is reading my newspaper on the boat. I hope reading your Bay Weekly is such a drive that you find just the time and place to enjoy yours.