Thursday, April 8, 2021

Bay Program Gives Itself Good Marks

 Some good news for oysters, blue crabs in new Chesapeake Bay report

A new report gauging the health of the Chesapeake Bay shows some improvements with oyster populations, land preservation efforts in the region’s watershed and blue crabs are not being overfished.

While the abundance of female blue crabs declined by 26% between 2019 and 2020 from 191 million to 141 million, the population remains above the 70 million threshold pegged as a sustainable level for female blue crabs in the Bay.

So they're only down 26%, but that's OK. Actually, crab fluctuations don't bother me much. Crab numbers historically vary enormously from year to year, and it appears to depend on weather at critical time of the year.

On the challenging side, water quality among the Bay’s tidal tributaries declined. Forest buffers and underwater grasses fell short of targeted goals for the health of the Bay, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s annual Bay Barometer report.

The Chesapeake Bay Program calls its Bay Barometer report a “science-based snapshot” that “provides the most up-to-date information about the environmental health and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

The annual report designed to gauge efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay was released this week, continuing to show an ecosystem in recovery from short-term weather impacts and long-term water quality degradation occurring from excess nutrients and sediment.

There have been a number of improvements from the previous assessment period shown on the report, according to a press release from the 38-year old Annapolis-based program. The report shows “an estimated 17% of female blue crabs were harvested in 2019, marking the 12th consecutive year that number is below the 25.5% target and 34% overfishing threshold.”

But were those goals set based on science, or on the desires of crabbers?  

Doug Myers, a Maryland senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, this week said, the crab abundance in the bay has been maintained since 2014.

“We are no longer at the whims of other things that impact crab populations,” he noted, adding numbers have remained stable for six years now. “That’s encouraging news.”

In addition to blue crabs, another popular Chesapeake Bay watershed denizen, the oyster, is benefiting from a population restoration project. In 2019, Maryland completed 788 acres of oyster reefs within ten tributaries selected as part of a large-scale project.

Compared to the area of possible oyster habitat, 788 acres is rounding error. 

“The oyster restoration projects are right on schedule,” Myers said, with three tributaries complete in Maryland and four in Virginia so far. “Funding is lined up” to continue moving forward.

Ah, the funding is lined up, that's what really matters to the Bay "restoration". Actual progress is not really necessary.  

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