Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Bay Gets its Annual Report Card - D+

Every year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation grades the Bay on a number of factors. This year they upgraded it to a D+ from a D.

Factors listed as excuses for the improvement included higher crab abundance, spreading sea grass beds, and higher oxygen concentrations in the bottom waters.  Areas of no progress or continued  decline include nutrient pollution, and the striped bass.

Certainly, blue crab populations appear to have responded positively to attempts to throttle back the fishery.  Crabs appear to be on the ragged edge of being over-fished. However, crab populations are well known to be highly variable, and one or two years of good numbers should not be construed as proof that the problem is solved for good.

IMHO, much of the improvement noted this year (other than the crabs) may be due to a favorable climatological year; in 2010 we had no massive spring freshet that brought massive amounts of sediments and nutrients into the bay a massive pulse, setting up the conditions for greater oxygen problems later in the year.  That is improvement, and we'll take it and be happy, but it's nothing to count on.

More troubling, at least to those of us who fish, is the apparent decline in rockfish abundance.  It's been quite apparent to me for the past several years that the large schools of small and medium sized (6-17 inch) rockfish that we used to see off my stretch of coast have been declining in size and frequency.  It is these fish that will provide the sport and commercial catch for the next several years to come.  Many of us have been predicting a return to rockfish moratorium, and I had a DNR fisheries scientist echo this sentiment in a private conversation.

Sunrise or Sunset?

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