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
WASHINGTON – Seafood coming from the Gulf of Mexico region is “absolutely safe” and Maryland is “very, very unlikely” to see any oil from the British Petroleum spill, scientists told Maryland’s congressional delegation Thursday.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who chaired the briefing, told representatives from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that she has received e-mails from Marylanders asking if they should cancel plans to visit area beaches or avoid eating seafood.
“With 20 percent of our seafood coming from the Gulf, one of our questions was: Is the seafood safe, and how will we know it will continue to be safe (from oil and chemical dispersants)?” Mikulski said. “Marylanders are wondering: Is this going to come up to our beaches? And is it going to come up the bay,” wreaking havoc on seafood and the environment?
Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner for FDA, outlined how the agency is working to close contaminated areas to fishing and test fish and water before reopening them.
Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator for fisheries at NOAA, told the delegation that multiple agencies are working together to monitor the seafood coming out of the Gulf region and ensure it is safe.
Steve Murawski, NOAA director of scientific programs for the oil spill, said the currents are working in such a way that water from the Yucatan Peninsula area is going straight over to Florida, and the water near the spill is staying in that region. Usually, that water would be part of a loop current and get pulled southeast, where it could join the Gulf Stream and be swept up the East Coast.
But even if the water from the area near the April 22 oil spill is pulled into the loop current, it is “very, very unlikely that any liquid oil is going to make it this far north,” Murawski said.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he knows the likelihood of oil from the spill making it to Maryland is remote, but he is concerned about the potential impact on wildlife. For example, he said, what may happen to Orioles when they fly south?
He didn’t get an answer.
Cardin also said he wants to make sure there is sufficient baseline environmental data now, so any future impact on this region could be assessed.
Mikulski and Cardin repeatedly asked about the potential effect of chemical dispersants.
“It deeply troubles me that these additional risks are now there,” Cardin said. “We don’t have a body of evidence on these dispersants” at this level.
He raised his voice and challenged Sharfstein, who argued that the chemicals in the dispersants are relatively common and are unlikely to have any toxic effects.
“It’s unprecedented,” Cardin said of the amounts used.
Sharfstein agreed that the situation is
unprecedented, but stressed that “what we do know (about the chemicals) is reassuring.”
Mikulski told the expert panel she and her fellow lawmakers “don’t doubt science,” but also recall the damage wrought by Hurricane Isabel, which swept up the East Coast in September 2003.
“We went to bed and we thought we were safe, and then we woke up and we found out we weren’t,” she said. “What was once infrequent and unlikely is now coming with regularity and tremendous consequence.”
After the briefing, Mikulski said she wants to learn more about the dispersants. She chairs an appropriations subcommittee that funds NOAA, and the group will host a July 15 hearing on them.
–by Jennifer Hlad
Crabs and oysters are no longer endangered just in the Chesapeake Bay –the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may harm the southern seafood industry, and the animals themselves. The Associated Press released a story May 4, wondering how the spill –and the federal government’s lockdown on Louisiana fisheries– may affect seafood prices worldwide.
According to the story, the state of Maryland receives about 2,000 bushels a day from Louisiana crabbers, and there is no end in sight for the oil spill. This void may pay dividends for local watermen, since the most bountiful Chesapeake blue crab season in 13 years began last month.
Jason Ruth, a regular Louisiana seafood buyer for a company in Grasonville, told the Associated Press, “Anytime you take that amount of resource out of play, it’s got to be affecting the prices some. To what extent, that’s yet to be seen.”
According to a May 8 report by Reuters, the oil spill is also spreading at the peak time for oyster reproduction in the gulf. To put this in perspective, the gulf provides almost 70 percent of the country’s oysters, with a value of $131.6 million in 2008.
If seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is banned long-term for health reasons, then one of Chesapeake watermen’s biggest competitors will be out of the running for a while.
The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is enjoying a revival, with an increase of about 60 percent since last year and its highest rate since 1997. This has been welcome news for the watermen, crab-lovers, environmentalists and politicians.
But at least one expert cautioned that the comeback should not be seen as a sign that the bay’s water quality is being restored; he insists that it is the result of good fisheries management.
“Getting blue crabs numbers up has nothing to do with saving the Bay,” James Price, the head of the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation, told News21. “It has to do with blue crab management.” Price believes the Bay will never be brought back to its glory days.
Correct management of other crucial fisheries, such as the depleted oyster population, should have been similarly introduced years ago, Price said.
“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation should have argued for moratorium on oysters years ago – but they never have,” stated Price. Now, he believes, it may be too late to save the oysters, as the delicate habitats they depend on for their survival have been destroyed.
The blue crab population in the the Chesapeake Bay is up 60%, but the oyster population remains drastically low, despite concentrated efforts to restore it.
Overall, Maryland state and federal government funds totaling $40 million have gone to protect and grow the oyster population.
The state’s plan? More regulations to protect more areas of the bay to save more oysters. And the watermen are not happy about it.
Jackie Bowen, a Calvert County waterman, opposes oyster sanctuaries. He said in a public forum earlier this year, “We try to make a living out there. We don’t want to be out of business.”
Despite concerns like Bowen’s, the Department of Natural Resources hopes to submit a proposal for new sanctuaries soon.
“We want to be sure we get it right, as right as we can,” DNR assistant director of fisheries Mike Naylor told the Washington Post. “These sanctuaries are permanent.”
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.
Thanks to evidence that Maryland’s blue crab population has staged a rebound, it’s been a good month for Gov. Martin O’Malley and area crab lovers. The governor may have received a campaign boost, while crab lovers may soon be able to to go to their favorite seafood restaurants and have a better chance of eating local crabs.
Well for crab lovers, not exactly. Even though Maryland announced the crab population appears to be up sharply this season, the harvest restrictions aren’t likely to be lifted anytime soon. First, Maryland officials want to see how blue crab’s numbers will continue to fare. Even though winter dredging of female crabs has significantly decreased over the past two years, the harvest actually increased in 2009.
As for O’Malley, news of a crab revival is particularly welcome in a campaign year, coming as it does two years after his administration pushed for crab harvest restrictions that were unpopular with watermen. Though restricting the crab harvest might seem like a smart move now, it wasn’t always perceived that way. This measure was controversial when passed in 2008. Now, O’Malley may have more credibility when he tells bay preservationists he has their best interest at heart.
Watermen, however, might not be feeling so receptive to O’Malley’s charms. They sacrificed the most for this crab growth. “Our watermen are due gratitude for their endurance during this stock rebuilding, and for their conservation efforts,” Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech said.
But watermen have a glimmer of hope for change, as DNR officials said they may consider “modest management modifications” this year.
“It’s just that whole thing is amazing, the excitement. The ramps are always packed… ,” Annapolis resident Mike Billings said in an interview with Hometown Glen Burnie. “It literally is electric.”
After a snowy winter, the welcome sunshine and relaxing day of fishing are a sight for sore eyes for the recreational sport fisherman who enjoy this special day. read more
More than 90 percent of oysters landed around the world are the result of some sort of oyster farming, according to marine scientists. But that is not the case in Maryland , where aquaculture never really caught on despite a dramatic decline in the oyster population.
That could change soon. State officials are promoting some new oyster farming proposals, ideas which could gain popularity in the wake of recent good news about Maryland’s blue crab. On April 14, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced that blue crabs are on the rise, thanks to harvest restrictions that helped boost the adult female crab population.
Now the Maryland Department of Natural Resources aims to help spark a similar revival in the oyster population, through a proposal it calls the Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan. Released in December 2009, the plans calls for expanding the number of no-harvest zones that would be off limits to oystering, and increasing the areas available for leasing to private oyster farming operations in the Chesapeake Bay.
If the plan to encourage oyster farming is successful, it would bring Maryland’s oyster management “efforts more in line with virtually all other regions in the world,” according to University of Maryland marine biologists Victor Kennedy and Roger Newell.
In a recent article, Kenney and Newell noted that the problem dwindling oysters has been the subject of political discussion for three centuries:
“In 1701, a Swiss visitor reported that Chesapeake oysters were so abundant that ships sometimes ran aground on oyster reefs, and so large that they had to be cut in two to be eaten. Over time, Maryland’s oyster industry grew until the landings in the 1880s were twice those of the rest of the world combined. However, about that time annual harvests began to decline, causing much consternation.
An Oyster Commission formed in 1882 to study the problem linked the harvest decline to overfishing, diminishing amounts of settlement material (shell) and destruction of oyster spat by harvest practices. Among other recommendations, the commission called for a reliance on trained experts — not politicians — to close oyster beds where and when necessary to allow for rehabilitation. It also recommended a system of private oyster farming on bottoms leased from the state to supplement the public fishery.
Unfortunately, there was no political will to implement these two conservation measures. These recommendations (and similar recommendations by a number of later commissions) were not followed, and more than a century later this same debate is again taking place in Annapolis.”
Maryland already runs a volunteer program that encourages individuals to grow baby oysters and deposit them in the bay, for which it maintains a “guide to growing oysters” page on a state government Web site. But the move into commercial aquaculture represents a bigger shift and likely will take more than individual initiative from citizens.
Maryland politicians have reached no consensus yet on what kind of oyster farming would be best for reviving the Chesapeake bivalve. But since it is an election year, with the governorship and all 188 seats in the General Assembly at stake, the debate should be interesting to watch.
In an effort to decrease the number of “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay, some Maryland legislators support the call for more oyster sanctuaries issued by Gov. Martin O’Malley and the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
But this has been met with fierce opposition from watermen, who contend the sanctuaries could put many of them out of business.
Proponents believe sanctuaries can help revive the bay’s oyster population and clean the bay–and that a healthy Chesapeake should take priority over the livelihood of watermen.
“Hunter-gatherers in society are being squeezed out all over the world,” Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery) testified at the House Environmental Matters Committee during the legislative session that concluded this week. “This is not one of the industries of the future.”
But many watermen believe pollution is the main cause of lowered oyster counts in the bay, not watermen and their fishing. Watermen lobbied in the Maryland General Assembly this year to delay or defeat the plan to create additional oyster sanctuaries.
To help revive the bivalves, Gov. O’Malley has been promoting a plan to expand the number of oyster reefs in the bay deemed “no harvesting” zones. Opponents pushed a proposal to delay creation of these sanctuaries for a year or more, but their measure died when legislators adjourned this week, according to the Bay Daily blog.
Other plans are afoot to boost the oyster population through aquaculture. On April 3, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources submitted a proposal for federal stimulus funds in the amount of $10 million to fund oyster-related projects. In that proposal, DNR recommended the infusion of ariakensis (Asian oysters) into the bay.
But on April 6, that proposal was criticized as ecologically risky by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recommended a native-only oyster restoration plan instead. The native-only plan drew praise from the governors of Maryland and Virginia.
While reducting algae blooms in the bay has long been a priority for bay preservationists, environmental agencies also have been trying to figure out a plan to replenish oysters, which act as a natural filter to clean the water. The decline in the Chesapeake’s oysters has been steep, with 80 percent of oyster bars disappearing from Maryland’s waters over the past 25 years, according to U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil.