Volume XI, Issue 13 ~ March 27 - April 2, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

Will Politics Stall Recovery?

I wanted to write about helping master tree-climber Chris Colbeck install dove-nesting cones this past weekend, our small but hopefully fruitful gesture to help increase mourning dove populations by giving the amorous birds a place to make babies. But after two bewildering decisions — Maryland’s proposal to ease crabbing restrictions and the Chesapeake Bay Program’s adoption of a weaker nitrogen pollution goal — I couldn’t hold my tongue. So I enter the already clamorous fray.

Of the two, the new nitrogen goal has the broadest implication for overall efforts to improve the Bay. It is true that curtailing nitrogen loads from the estimated 285 million pounds to 175 million pounds a year by 2010 will improve the water quality in many creeks, rivers and the main Bay, but this goal still falls short of the more aggressive 160 pounds per year recommended by experts.

It may seem odd to complain that the new target will only reduce this chief pollutant by 40 percent, but that’s not my main beef. Is this really the best we can try for? I respond with an unequivocal no. The clock is ticking on reaching the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement goals — only seven years remain — and there is no three-point buzzer beater that’ll save our Chesapeake.

Senators, governors, policy makers and others bandy about such phrases as ‘national treasure’ and ‘our most precious resource’ like so much parade confetti. But time and again, when truly bold, decisive action is needed, their words wear paper-thin. It appears the Bay Program leaders chose the path of least political resistance when deciding to accept the more lenient nitrogen limit.

It’s no secret that the Bush Administration has tried to undercut clean water and clean air laws, categorizing some rules as “anti-business.” So tell me again how more stringent pollution controls hurts the economy, especially with a moneymaker like the Chesapeake?

Of course individual states can set their own nitrogen goals, so there is the possibility they’ll do more than the minimum.

Maryland’s crab decision smacks of politics as well. Both the governor’s administration and the retooled Department of Natural Resources claim that science should lead resource-management decisions. If that’s true, how do you reconcile the fact that the new regulations for crab sizes run counter to expert and stakeholder recommendations, agreed to by Virginia, Maryland and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission in 2000, to reduce crab harvests by 15 percent over three years?

Furthermore, if their decision really was an apolitical blues melody, then why was state fisheries chief Eric Schwaab, a respected career resource manager, on the blunt end of a classless dismissal only hours after he helped make the announcement about the new regulations? Was it another campaign promise delivered to watermen? Departmental infighting? Makes one wonder.

The bottom line is that more aggressive yet sound conservation measures today mean a healthier resource tomorrow. In both these cases, the tune our leaders are playing may not ring true for a more vibrant Bay.

DNR holds a public hearing on the proposed crab harvest regulations on Thursday, March 27, from 6-7:45pm at Talbot County Library, 100 West Dover Street, Easton. You can also chime in electronically at www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries.

Fish Are Biting
Good angling opportunities for white and yellow perch abound: Wye River, Choptank River and Tuckahoe Creek.

I’ve heard reliable reports from Virginia friends that herring and rockfish — big rockfish — are moving up the Bay. Remember, this is catch-and-release, so use single hooks and crimped barbs plus rubber nets to get stripers back in the water quickly.

If you’re jonesin’ for a rockfish, Calvert Cliffs offers catch-and-release chances. Last week, the DNR announced that the recreational and charter-boat spring striped-bass fishery will begin on Saturday, April 19, a day earlier than first announced.



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Last updated March 27, 2003 @ 1:57am