Browsing articles by " Alex Moe"

A Crabber’s Life: Days Are Consumed by the Water

By Alex Moe  //  Crabs, Fishing Industry  //  86 Comments

Capt. Bob Evans (left) works alongside Anthony Jones pulling up crab pots near Shady Side, Md. (News21 photo by Allison Frick)

SHADY SIDE, Md. – Capt. Bob Evans has the same routine six days a week, each and every week, during the warm months. He sets out on his 40-foot boat around 6:30 a.m. and, a few minutes after leaving the dock, is already pulling up his underwater lines.

Six hours later, after checking about 400 pots, he returns to the dock and makes the short drive to his store, where he unloads the bushels from his truck.

“I was raised on the water,” recalls Evans, 57. “I just couldn’t stay away from it. I started out as a kid just fishing and crabbing, and I absolutely loved it.”

For the past 40 years, he has been crabbing for a living. “I don’t know how to do anything else,” he says.

His crab pots are scattered in the bay and in nearby rivers in Shady Side. “Captain Bob,” as he likes to be called, has two men who work with him on his boat, while his two daughters run his seafood store in Churchton, Md.

“It’s a family business, and we like it. We’re proud of it,” he says.

Watermen must make enough in the summer season to last them for the year. “We don’t get a pay check every week,” Evans says.

“When you do good, you have to save your money for the tough times.”

This season has been good so far for Evans’ business. He caught more than $1,600 worth of crabs just on that day.

But he says that is not always the case.

“You’ll never get rich doing this,” Evans says. “But it’s a good honest living –and we’re proud of what we do.”

–by Alex Moe


Bay Activists Call for Stronger Cleanup

By Alex Moe  //  Cleanup, Uncategorized  //  27 Comments
Former Maryland State Sen. Bernie Fowler

Former Maryland State Sen. Bernie Fowler, backed by top Chesapeake Bay leaders, at the Annapolis City Dock. Fowler compared the Bay cleanup efforts to the last leg of a 400-meter race. Photo by News21

ANNAPOLIS – A small flotilla of boats sailed into the City Dock Wednesday morning, bringing a group of Bay activists, scientists and former politicians to a rally calling for new actions to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

The few dozen activists released a 25-point plan aimed at stopping the decline of the Chesapeake. The plan outlines stronger cleanup measures to reduce the amount of pollutants from agriculture, land development, septic systems and air emissions that reach the Bay.

More than 50 individuals from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania signed the plan as a demonstration of their belief that the voluntary efforts at cleaning up the Bay for the past 26 years have failed.

“We are trying to create a new day for the Bay,” said former Maryland state Sen. Gerald Winegrad, the event organizer.

The Bay Flotilla comes the day before a major meeting of officials in Baltimore at the Chesapeake Executive Council meeting.

Activists called on the Environmental Protection Agency, which will be sending a representative to the meeting tomorrow, to help the six states in the bay’s watershed.

Former Maryland state Sen. Bernie Fowler said that tomorrow, the baton will be passed to the EPA. “All we’ve got to say to the EPA,” Fowler said, “is for God’s sake, when you get it in your hand, run – and don’t you drop it. We cannot afford to lose this wonderful Bay.”

–by Alex Moe


Underwater Grasses Up Overall in the Chesapeake Bay

By Alex Moe  //  Bay Education, Crabs, Fishing Industry  //  29 Comments

Bay grasses in the Chesapeake Bay were up twelve percent in 2009–the most grass found in the bay since 2002, according to scientists at the Chesapeake Bay Program. The results of the annual aerial grass survey are giving scientists hope that the health of the bay is improving.

“Because bay grasses are sensitive to even small changes in water pollution, they serve as a key indicator of Chesapeake Bay health,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin said. “Healthy bay grass beds protect shorelines from erosion, produce oxygen and filter polluted water,” Griffin continued.

The underwater grasses are essential for fish and blue crab habitats. And with the crab population up 60 percent in the Bay this year, more grass is needed for the additional creatures.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said the grass increase is a good sign for the state’s efforts. “This expansion is an encouraging sign that our pollution control efforts are working,” he said, “A trend that we hope to sustain with accelerated efforts to restore the Bay.”

Although overall the bay grass population is up, there were some areas of the bay that saw a decrease. Anne Arundel County encountered a huge disappointment in the amount of grass seen in its rivers. “There were dramatic declines in grass beds in the Magothy and Severn rivers, and no grass beds were documented at all in the South, West and Rhode rivers,” according to The Capital. Scientists are still working to determine why these rivers did not see an increase in bay grass.


Anacostia River: The Need to Clean

Like many of the rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, the Anacostia River is dirty. It is filled with litter, sewage, and a slew of chemicals that contaminate the waters. And according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, “The Anacostia River is the Washington, D.C. area’s greatest source of toxic pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.”

Officials have been working for the past two years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find a solution to make the river healthier. And on April 19, local and federal officials revealed a $1.7 billion dollar plan aimed at combatting the Anacostia’s problems.

The Anacostia River Watershed Restoration Plan lists more than 3,000 projects that could improve the ailing river. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told the Washington Post that much more needs to be done, but that, “Today, we’re taking, I think, a giant step forward for a new life for the Anacostia River.”

A major part of the plan includes putting the Anacostia on a “trash diet.” This move, O’Malley says, will make it the first river on the East Coast where the total amount of trash will be limited every day.

But none of the money needed to help restore the “forgotten river” has yet been budgeted, which leaves many to wonder if and when the plan will be implemented.


Blue Crab Population Up 60 Percent

By Alex Moe  //  Fishing Industry, Regulation  //  33 Comments

Photograph by Alex Moe

Watermen and scientists spent the winter months counting the blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay and have finally released their findings. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources annual winter crab dredge survey report determined that the crab population has increased 60 percent in the last year. There are now 658 million crabs in the bay. This is the highest crab count since 1997.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced the news on April 14 at the Fisherman’s Inn Crab Deck on Kent Narrows, where he proclaimed it a great day because “The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is actually roaring back, and actually coming back stronger than many would ever have predicted.” O’Malley was joined by many other officials, including DNR Secretary John Griffin and Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker.

The best news of the day, according to Lynn Fegley of DNR’s Fisheries Service, was the increase in the adult crabs because they spawn and produce the next generation of crabs. Fegley said it was the highest the adult crabs have been since the early 90′s.

Photograph by Alex Moe

Even with the apparent turnaround in the crab population, officials are unlikely to lift the current restrictions on crabbing. At the press conference, Griffin said, “Two years does not necessarily make a trend.”  He went on to say he wants to “avoid some of the boom and the bust from the past– 1993 and 1997, where we had a spike up in abundance and then a quick drop off.”

But many who work in the industry, including Jack Brooks, President of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Association and co-owner of a crabmeat processing plant in Cambridge, want more freedom to catch. Brooks said the higher population is good news and hopes it “will enable an easing up on some of those restrictions to enable the folks to get back and benefit from their sacrifices.”

April 1 marked the start of crabbing season in the Chesapeake Bay, and it will be interesting to see how the harvest season turns out this year.

The owner of Fisherman’s Inn, Sonny Stulz, said he is optimistic for Maryland’s blue crabs. “We have to deal a lot with Louisiana and Texas to get our crabs” Stulz said, “so to get them locally would be great.”

CBF applauded the efforts made by Maryland and Virginia to bring back the crabs and said that the work must continue. “This is not the end of the problem of threatened Bay species and a struggling Bay seafood industry,” Baker said, “but it is a sign that managed the right way, the fisheries can respond and even flourish again.”


Chesapeake Bay Health Poor But Improving

Despite efforts by environmentalists, the Chesapeake Bay’s health remains poor, according to the latest report card issued annually by the federal-state program tasked with cleaning up the nation’s largest estuary.

The Chesapeake Bay Program this week released its Bay Barometer, which gave the bay an overall average health score of 45 percent out of 100 percent for 2009. On a positive note, the study said 64 percent of the bay’s overall restoration and protection goals have been met, a score that is six points higher than in 2008.

The Bay Barometer is a comprehensive study of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. CBP describes it as a science-based annual review of the progress of achieving Bay health goals and implementing the needed restoration measures. The entire report can be found here.

Although the report may seem disheartening considering all the efforts underway to clean up the bay, there were some positives. For example, the Bay Barometer says that in 2009, “The adult blue crab population increased to 223 million, its highest level since 1993.” It also states that, “Bay Program partners have implemented 62 percent of needed pollution reduction efforts, a 3 percent increase from 2008.”

It is clear that much more needs to be done to improve the health of the bay, but at least there have been slight improvements over the past year.

Beth McGee, a senior water quality specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told The Daily Press that, “Overall, we still have a long way top go.”


Bay Cleanup Faces Another Challenge

By Alex Moe  //  Bay Education, Fishing Industry, Politics  //  17 Comments

Offshore drilling has been banned for years off the Atlantic Coast, but now that is going to change. Earlier this week President Obama announced that he will allow oil and gas drilling near Virginia and other southern states.

This new development could greatly impact the Chesapeake Bay and has raised concerns with environmental groups in the area. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has come out in opposition of the move. In CBF’s Bay Daily, Tom Pelton wrote that, “Drilling would punch a huge hole in the Obama Administration’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan. And drilling would leave beautiful and fragile coastlines, such as those along Virginia Beach and Assateague Island, vulnerable to a future as black as oil.”

This move could undermine Obama’s promise to clean up the nation’s largest estuary. And the president of CBF, Will Baker, says that a spill from this new drilling “could destroy an entire year of newborn crabs, threatening the livelihoods of watermen and others.” With crab and oyster populations already at all-time lows, environmentalists fear the move to allow offshore drilling may be detrimental to their survival.


Recycling Oyster Shells to Help the Bay

By Alex Moe  //  Fishing Industry  //  1 Comment

Courtesy Oyster Recovery Partnership

To help restore the Chesapeake Bay, the Oyster Recovery Partnership launched a new recycling program this week. The Oyster Recovery Partnership Shell Recycling Alliance will aim to collect used oyster shells with the goal of growing new oysters on them in hatcheries.

Stephan Abel, executive director of ORP, told the Associated Press that the idea for this recycling program came from oyster shuckers themselves. Restaurants, hotels, catering venues and any other seafood distributor can request bins and receive 5-gallon buckets in which to put their used shells. According to the program’s Web site, the Alliance will then arrange to have the shells picked up throughout the Washington/Baltimore/Annapolis region. Twenty groups have agreed to take part in the ORP thus far.

Officially, the program kicked off in Baltimore this week after a pilot recycling program was deemed successful. According to Southern Maryland Online, over the last 18 months the pilot program collected more than 1.5 million shells locally. ORP hopes to collect at least 200,000 bushels of oysters each year to help replenish the dwindling oyster population in the Bay.


Can Oysters Survive the ‘Acid Test’?

By Alex Moe  //  Fishing Industry  //  24 Comments

Oyster larvae - courtesy The Smithsonian Institute/Photo by Amanda Reynolds

The National Resources Defense Council is attempting to bring greater attention to rising acidic levels in oceans, which in turn could impact the Chesapeake Bay. According to the Virginian-Pilot, many are worried how the acidity of estuary waters will affect the creatures that live in them.

The documentary film, “Acid Test,” was funded by the National Resources Defense Council and shown in Norfolk this week. It describes how since the Industrial Revolution, “ocean waters have increase in acidity by about 30 percent.”

The Pilot quoted scientists who attended the showing and said they fear higher acidity will hinder the ability of shellfish to make their shells as calcium carbonate in the water decreases. With oysters in the Chesapeake Bay already at record lows, such pH levels may be detrimental to acquatic life, scientists fear. Research being conducted by The Smithsonian Institute supports this concern and suggests that if acidity levels get high enough, oysters currently with shells may see them start to dissolve.

The Virginian-Pilot sad The National Resources Defense Council hopes the film, “Acid Tes” will encourage lawmakers to make changes to help battle rising acidity levels in the water. If the Smithsonian research proves to be correct, it’s a battle that ultimately may be life-or-death for the few oysters that remain in the Chesapeake Bay.


Searching for Ghost Crab Pots

By Alex Moe  //  Uncategorized  //  26 Comments

Ghost Crab Pots - Courtesy NOAA

For the past two weeks, watermen in Maryland’s part of the Chesapeake Bay have been hard at work. Not fishing for crabs, but rather collecting crab pots. These efforts were part of the Department of Natural Resources Ghost Crab Pot Retrieval Program.

The program is meant to help clean up the Bay and improve the blue crab industry. Some 360 watermen have pulled out nearly 1,500 ghost crab pots since February 22nd.

The program has received much praise from state and congressional leaders. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley told The Bay Net, “This is a great opportunity, because it not only improves the health of the Chesapeake Bay, but provides watermen with work.”

Why are removing these “ghost” or non-usable crab pots necessary? According to The Bay Net, pots can only last in salt water for about two years; they may then become unattached to their buoy and be sitting at the bottom of the Bay still catching the precious crabs that no one will be able to enjoy.

When people are out on the Bay, crab pot buoys can be seen everywhere, but how many more are underneath capturing crabs? Do people even think about this? State Officials told the Associated Press that they estimate thousands of pots have been lost.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here:
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