Wednesday 22 August 2018

Earlier this year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released a five-year report, as required by the Maryland legislature, on the success of oyster sanctuaries. The draft report said that biomass and oyster populations in sanctuaries were going up while oysters in private fisheries were declining. 

While the report came with a disclaimer that the findings were preliminary, they showcased that sanctuaries show signs of progress.

Oysters are hard little workers. Each one of these amazing bivalves can filter pollutants out of up to 50 gallons of water per day. Unfortunately, they are at just one percent of their historic population in the Chesapeake Bay. 

Waterkeepers on both shores of the Chesapeake Bay are seeking public policy that balances the needs of restoration with commercial fishery interests. 

Even with information gleaned from the five-year study — and a requirement from the General Assembly (in the form of 2016 legislation) — to follow the science on oyster fisheries management, the commission responsible for managing oysters may be unfairly tipping the scales toward industry. 

Oysters are a keystone species. Without a healthy oyster population, it is nearly impossible to restore the health of the Bay. 

The Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC), which determines and manages both public sanctuaries and private fisheries, is dominated by representatives of the seafood industry and watermen groups. There are scientists and researchers involved, but they aren’t permitted to take an advocacy position. As far as people representing the Bay and the environment, there are only two spots for our voice. 

Moving forward on their charge to manage oyster fisheries, the OAC has set out three near-term tasks:

  1. Make a recommendation on the oyster restoration work in the Tred Avon that had been stopped by the Hogan administration;
  2. Pick the next tributaries where oyster sanctuaries would be placed; and
  3. Suggest changes in management to the sanctuary program. 

The committee quickly arrived at a decision on issue one – the work in the Tred Avon would continue. Unfortunately, it came with a caveat that is nearly insurmountable. The watermen on the OAC would not let the work move forward using rock as a substrate on which to grow the oysters. They want the sanctuary to be created using oyster shell, which is scarce. Everyone knows that there is more shell leaving the Chesapeake Bay than coming in. There isn’t enough shell to build an adequate sanctuary. 

The commission skipped over the second issue and asked for comments on changes in management. The industry proposed taking areas out of the 24 percent sanctuary, reducing it to 20 percent and restoring no other areas. 

 “The five-year report showed us that the sanctuaries are working. Why change it?” said Matt Pluta, Choptank Riverkeeper. “In addition, all of the proposed areas are Tier I top production areas” 

The recommendation from environmentalists to the Maryland Department of the Environment can be found in the slideshow presented at the January 9, 2017 meeting. 

A message from Waterkeepers Chesapeake Executive Director Betsy Nicholas:

Waterkeepers Chesapeake is a coalition of 19 Waterkeepers from around the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. For years, we have worked to protect our most precious natural resource: water.

The President-elect is beginning to fill out cabinet and executive agency positions, giving us a preview of what kind of administration is coming to Washington, DC in January. Based on that preview, we are extremely concerned about our water resources.

Waterkeepers, along with our staff and volunteers, have worked tirelessly toward the goal of cleaning up the environment and restoring clean water to the Chesapeake Bay and the Coastal Bays and our local rivers and streams. On a daily basis, we monitor water quality. We hold polluters accountable. We advocate at the local, state and federal level.

We work every day toward the goal of swimmable, fishable, drinkable water for you and future generations.

We will not see that work reversed.

The president-elect has talked of rolling back regulations in very general terms. He provides no details. We don’t know what he has in mind yet, but we do know that regulatory oversight is sometimes all that stands between safe drinking water and water poisoned by things not limited to shoddy infrastructure, industrial pollution, and energy interests (drilling, exploration, legacy and transport). Ask the people of Flint, Michigan. It isn’t pretty when you can’t trust the water that comes out of the tap.

We will steadfastly oppose regulatory policies that threaten water quality. We will oppose any attempts to weaken the Clean Water Act.

The new administration has signaled an interest in looking backward by pushing for throwback energy resources, like coal and fracking. Why? We know that renewables are cleaner and are the key to a healthy environment and better jobs.

We will steadfastly oppose a return to energy sources that foul and threaten water and air quality.

The new administration is motioning toward appointing cabinet positions, particularly those in charge of protecting and conserving America’s great natural resources like the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, with individuals who deny climate change and would open our federal parks to oil and gas extraction.

We will steadfastly oppose those who ignore the science and threaten public safety by ignoring the threats of climate change.

We all deserve a future that includes clean water.

We will continue to fight for clean water for everyone, now and in the future!

Coal Trains: Dust Pollution is a Real Problem

If you live, work or commute along the Anacostia, Potomac, Susquehanna or James Rivers, you have probably seen train cars filled to overflowing with coal traveling alongside these waterways. These railcars are typically not covered, so the dust flows freely into the air as they make their way down the rail line. In fact, an average rail car loses about 500 lbs. of coal dust — dust that contains mercury, arsenic, uranium and other toxins harmful to human health and wildlife (including fish and aquatic life in rivers adjacent to the train tracks). In fact, our Riverkeepers have even found chunks of coal along river banks and in rivers. In November 2007, six cars of coal derailed into the Anacostia River.

Waterkeepers in Washington State scored a big win in federal court recently on the issue of pollutants from coal trains. In a case (Sierra Club Inc. et al. v. BNSF Railway et al.), the railway company admitted that an average of 60,000 lbs. of coal can be lost from each 120-car train.The court ruled that these trains are “point sources” of pollution under the Clean Water Act. This means that the rail company can be held liable for coal discharged directly into navigable waters. Not only did the Court find that railway companies can be liable for coal discharged into nearby waterways, but that Waterkeepers in the state had the legal ability to sue the railway company for such discharges.

The full trial is currently underway and Waterkeepers Chesapeake will closely follow this trial as a ruling against the train company could have profound implications for rail transport of coal in the Chesapeake region.


Photos (above to the left) of fugitive train-sourced coal ash dust located a few feet from the James River, a public walking trail, parkland, homes and businesses...a daily routine affecting families and drinking water sources of millions of Virginians.