Volume XI, Issue 32 ~ August 7-13, 2003

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Burton on the Bay | Chesapeake Outdoors | Sky Watch | Tidelog
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Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

The Bay’s Dead Zone

We’re more than one-third of the way through the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement that commits the Bay partnership to repair our damaged Chesapeake by 2010. But to steal from The Rolling Stones, time ain’t on our side.

Dismal water quality, primarily from nutrient pollution, continues to choke many facets of Bay life, including underwater grasses and crabs, two important components of the Chesapeake’s ecosystem that can ill-afford further declines. Add to the Bay’s woes poor levels of dissolved oxygen — the life-sustaining stuff necessary for healthy fish, crab and oyster stocks — and the scope of the restoration challenge is magnified.

Weekly reports from Maryland’s Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources tell a sad tale of nasty water in the form of algae blooms and dead fish. These findings are collaborated by scores of anecdotal reports.

Last week, a press release posted on the Virginia Institute of Marine Science website only added more weight to the argument that time is running short to enact serious nutrient pollution controls before irreversible damage takes root (www.vims.edu/newsmedia/press_release/hypoxia.html).

Virginia Institute of Marine Science is part of ChesMMAP, the Chesapeake Bay Multispecies Monitoring and Assessment Program, a Bay-wide bimonthly survey funded by NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office. Data collected by researchers there revealed that a 250-square-mile area of deep water in the upper Bay contains almost no oxygen — or fish. In waters that hold normal oxygen levels, a single 20-minute trawl sample should capture 2,000 fish, VIMS researchers say. But they collected less than one fish per tow sample from areas where the deep water had little or no oxygen.

“We found a huge pool of hypoxic water below about 20 feet, from just north of the Potomac River to north of Annapolis. Tow after tow return[ed] without any fish across the affected area,” said ChesMMAP project leader Chris Bonzek. “These findings were startling, though not completely unexpected.”

He got that right. Much of the world’s coastal waters suffer from nutrient runoff, which kills vast expanses of aquatic life. We’ve known for years that excess nutrients in our watershed come primarily from agriculture and sewage treatment plant wastewater. Too much nutrient causes phytoplankton to grow wild, then die and sink to the bottom of the Bay, decomposing and consuming dissolved oxygen in the process.

The timing of VIMS’ report underscores the importance of what comes out of this week’s agriculture forum in Queenstown, billed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich as the first-ever nutrient management summit.

Hosted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the summit brought together farmers, industrial poultry leaders and environmentalists to fine-tune implementation of the state’s Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998. Agricultural runoff accounts for nearly 40 percent of the total nutrient pollution, which is more than 300 million pounds annually. To meet the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement goal, farm runoff must be reduced by one-half.

In June, the governor said the purpose of the summit was to hear from all interested parties about ways to make the nutrient management program easier to implement.

I’m all for that, especially getting the huge poultry companies to pony up and do their fair share to manage and remove millions of pounds of chicken litter that seeps into waterways. But if easier means less controls of the nutrients running into waterways, what real progress can we possibly expect?

Fish Are Biting
For light tackle enthusiasts and fly fishermen chasing breaking rockfish and bluefish, fishing in the middle Bay — Drum Point, Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, below Hoopers Island — seems to be the best bet for cleaner water for light tackle and fly fishing opportunities. Good ol’ white perch have saved the day for many folks.



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Last updated August 7, 2003 @ 12:49am