Tag: chesapeake bay

Will Little Marshy Rafts Take Us Closer to a Fishable, Swimmable Harbor?

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Who knew that the path to a “fishable, swimmable harbor by 2020” would include tying up a bunch of empty soda bottles and chucking them in the water? Well it does… sort of.

Empty soda bottles are just one ingredient in a batch of floating artificial wetlands to be installed in the Inner Harbor on April 20. It’s an expansion of a program begun two years ago with just eight wetland frames, which were found to successfully pull excess nitrogen out of the water, a necessary step toward cleaning up the harbor.

Not only do the floats clean the water, but they also provide habitat for wildlife, including crabs, eels, barnacles, and the occasional fish. And not only that, but the building of the floats has been a great learning experience for student volunteers from the Living Classroom Foundation and Fresh Start. And not only that

Despite the visible benefits, the net effect on water quality has not been easy measure. But even if that effect is marginal compared with the monumental task of rehabilitating the Chesapeake Bay, the wetland floats will be a visible symbol of that effort. And they look nice.

You Know What the Bay Could Really Use? More Sharks!

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It’s easy to want to preserve populations of cute endangered species, but what about ugly animals? What about ugly animals that scare you?

Populations of large sharks off the East Coast have been reduced by 90 percent from their stable, historic numbers. And this is a bad thing. For one, the predator’s precipitous decline fueled a steep increase in the number of cownose rays in the Chesapeake that wreaked havoc on our oysters.

Now, if it were up to me, we’d start hunting and eating cownose rays to keep the populations level, but some lawmakers in Annapolis think they know better. They’ve proposed a bill targeting the shark fin trade specifically, joining four other states in banning the trade of the delicacy. Each year, somewhere between 26 million and 73 million sharks are killed for their fins worldwide. But, as you might expect, Maryland accounts for an awfully small percentage of the fin market.

Opponents of the shark-protection bill include restaurateurs, grocers, fishermen, and — I’m assuming — people who watched Jaws too young and still get nightmares. Even our secretary of natural resources, John R. Griffin, has come out against the bill, on the grounds that it will unnecessarily inhibit our local commercial fishermen, since they would be catching sharks whole, but be restricted from selling the fins.

On the other side, proponents of the measure are hopeful that reducing demand for the product, will be an effective way of reducing shark mortality worldwide.

The World Is Your Oyster, Unless You’re an Oyster

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A new study of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population revealed that there are currently only three oysters for every thousand that once populated the bay before their commercial fishing began in earnest in the 19th century.

According to an article in The Sun, several reefs have already been declared oyster sanctuaries, but the scientists who conducted the study are calling for an outright ban on oyster harvesting throughout the entire bay.

Overfishing isn’t the only culprit in the animal’s dwindling population. Two different diseases have been plaguing oysters in the bay since the 1980s. Watermen, who harvest the oysters, blame the diseases primarily for the low numbers, and consider the protected reefs as a suitable measure.

But are we okay with driving oysters to extinction everywhere but those sanctuaries? Baltimore’s identity cannot be separated from the ecological reality of the Chesapeake Bay. Oysters and blue crabs are more than a convenient Baltimore mascot (like Mr. Boh or the Utz girl), they are integral to our cultural history, and important partners in our eco-system.

If left to its own devices, nature usually does a good job of recovering, even after catastrophe (check the mutated but thriving animal populations living in the Chernobyl blast zone). Maybe we ought to cease harvesting oysters for a few years and see what happens.

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