Sunday, December 28, 2008

Life on the Chesapeake Bay

Mudge and I both live on the Eastern Shore (of the Chesapeake), he in Virginia and I in Maryland. When we get together, we sometimes talk about the problems facing the folks who live and work on the water, the problems discussed in this article. I'm sort of a part timer, and I live in a bit of a shee-shee place, where some of the folks consider themselves authentic Eastern Shore folks as they trundle their kids to lacrosse practice in their Range Rovers. Mudge has fully integrated himself into the historic life of real live watermen and
Eastern Shore denizens, folks who speak a dialect of English that is slightly unfamiliar to the rest of us.

The life these watermen once plied is dying, as the oysters and crabs that once lived in abundance in the Chesapeake suffer the twin assaults of overfishing and environmental siege.

The Kitten and I live on a tributary to the Chesapeake, and the environmental restrictions we have on what we can do with our property are staggering, but I understand why they are in place. The watermen bristle under the restrictions placed on their activities on the water, designed to protect and nurture the crab and oyster population that remains. Listen to the watermen, and most of them blame the decline on sewage--from chicken farms, hog farms, and folks who live along the bay and its tributaries. They push for greater restrictions on what man can do and not do, while never quite realizing that their own activities have an equally devastating impact on marine life.

The Bay can come back, but it is going to cost watermen jobs. They simply cannot continue to fish in the numbers they do now, and prices are going to rise. Additionally, Maryland and Virginia are going to have to pass increasingly onerous restrictions on what can and cannot be done close to the water.

1 comment:

Mudge said...

Very nice article...and even nicer pictures. thanks. Just one note, I think a lot of them, in closed circles will admit that those who harvest the crabs and oysters certainly have an impact on populations. What I find them to be most frustrated about is having people who have never crabbed (no, a handnet and a chicken neck on a string don't count) a day in their lives come tell them what they are doing wrong or that they are the premier cause of the declines. The bay is a complex ecosystem with a watershed that includes Norfolk, Richmond, Washington, Baltimore, much of Pennsylvania and more. This watershed has one of the most rapid development histories in the past 30 years of any region in the country. If you've ever been in Washington and watched a good summer storm swell the drains, washing all that road gunk along with it, you can get some appreciation of how just one storm, on one day, in one city can contribute to the health of the bay. Because just about every drop in that drain ends up, eventually, in the bay. The recent broken water main in Bethesda, all that washes to the bay (I just saw it go by my house). All those new developments that cut down trees then put up those plastic woven silt fences to catch the runoff (very few are installed correctly) are not doing the job either. And when you multiply those fences and their associated run off by all the developed properties to have come along in the watershed for the past 30-40 years, you can have a better understanding of why the bay is getting shallower, why once grass covered stretches are now silted over, and why the once countless canvasback ducks are in decline (they feed on the grasses). In any case, the watermen are far from pristine in the decline of bay life, but they are far from premier either. Yet they will feel the impact more than most and what, for some at least, once comprised the draw and appeal of this region, the people and their way of life, will be seen only in history books. I suspect I'll not outlive its total demise, but it's not much fun watching it suffer either.

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