The pollution flowing from up north through the Conowingo Dam has now spread into the Chesapeake Bay and has reached the Eastern Shore.Queen Anne's County watermen say, along with all that pollution, is tons of freshwater, bringing no good to marine life in the bay. For salt-water creatures, especially white clams, it's imminent death.And if Conowingo Dam hadn't been there, it would have run straight through.
In a video posted to social media last week, waterman Dennis Hampton documented the dying clams. While a conveyor belt brought aboard empty shells and clams, Hampton holds two in his hand - their necks swinging loose and lifeless. "They're on their last leg," Hampton said.
Thursday afternoon, Hampton was back on the same boat, but tied up this time at the pier. The 61 year-old waterman says he has no reason to go out as clams continue to die."From that time until now, it's been straight downhill," Hampton said. "Clams, crabs, oysters, eels are all dying. It's got our ecosystem in an uproar." Hampton says demand for clams is growing, and with less in the water to catch, the price of a bushel has jumped from $70 to $100 just this week.
"Three times in my life, I've seen the Bay die off. The problem is, this time, it could've been avoided," Hampton said. Hampton points the finger at the Conowingo Dam, whose parent company, Exelon, opened up at least 11 gates last week to relieve the dam of water."It's just wrong on so many levels," Hampton said.
Maryland's Department of Natural Resources is still working to examine the impact."Based on feedback and reports from commercial watermen and seafood processors, the white clam industry has been significantly impacted," Communications Manager Stephen Schatz said in a statement. "The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is working to quantify the impact by conducting scientific surveys to measure clam abundance, quality, mortality and size."One of the things about living in an estuary is that conditions are subject to change depending on the weather. Quick changes can cause major die offs, but the kind of organisms that succeed in such areas are resilient, and will come back when conditions improve.