Food labels. In their Ask Well blog, The New York Times addressed an issue that our own researcher Roni Neff has been tackling for some time: the confusion that surrounds food labels. All those “best by” and “sell by” dates may be contributing to unnecessary food waste, and misleading consumers. The Times story is here. For more on Roni’s research, read this story, published by Johns Hopkins Public Health magazine.
Good news for the Bay. This week, the U.S. Third Court of Appeals upheld a Chesapeake Read More >
Downtown Annapolis and Spa Creek, leading into the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay.
Five years ago, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a landmark decision to foster the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The agency’s plan was the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL), the goal of which was to identify and control major sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in the seven Bay jurisdictions (six states and the District of Columbia) that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The TMDL effort calls for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 24 percent reduction in phosphorus, and a 20 percent reduction in sediment in the Bay Read More >
Citizens descended on the small town of Wye Mill, Maryland at Chesapeake College Thursday, August 5th to attend the final public comment period for Maryland’s sweeping new oyster policies. The overcast and muggy weather provided a sober backdrop for intense discussions on how Maryland will manage the future of the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica)— a bivalve mollusk central to the culture and livelihood of generations of watermen.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff reviewed a package of eight regulations, ranging from expanded oyster sanctuaries, changes to public shellfish fishery areas, leasing for shellfish aquaculture, to a study of power dredging. According to the Southern Maryland Online, more than a thousand people have already commented on these proposed oyster policies, which were posted on February 2010.
Tom O’Connell, Director of DNR Fisheries Service defended the plan saying “there is broad stakeholder agreement that the status quo is not acceptable” and that the policies as presented will “make it better for the oyster, the oystermen, and aquaculture.”
Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica). Image by Tony Weeg/Creative Commons
One of the main points of contention was over expanded oyster sanctuaries. Conservation groups see these sanctuaries, instead of lost resources, as preserves where oyster populations can grown and evolve natural resistance to menacing oyster diseases. An appropriate analogy is the creation of “national parks” or sanctuaries for oysters where they can flourish, in addition to “national forests” or public waters where oysters can be selectively, commercially harvested. Signs of natural disease resistance have been reported in Chesapeake Bay oysters, which highlights need for increasing oyster sanctuaries.
There is a growing sense of urgency to approve the state’s plan. Stephanie Westby, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation called for “ new management strategies while we still have something to protect.” A member of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association echoed support for the new DNR plan and pointed out that rockfish and blue crabs have both rebounded from overharvesting following management the state, and oysters are next on the list of species that need saving.
Questions about the plan to increase oyster sanctuaries from 9% to 25% of remaining oyster beds and carve out private lease areas drew sharp criticism from one oystermen who asked, “why take my bottom from me?”
Marylanders have historically regarded oyster bottom— sea floor capable for growing oysters— as public property, while most other states on the East Coast, including Virginia, consider oyster bottom as privatized, leasable land. Transitioning from public oyster grounds to leasable plots in selected areas is a first step in developing oyster aquaculture in Maryland.
More than 90% of oysters consumed in the US are raised by aquaculture, so Maryland’s latest decision to promote aquaculture along with wild harvesting is consistent with, if not somewhat lagging national trends. Read More >
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley held a press conference in Annapolis, MD last Thursday to announce a plan to restore the oyster population to the Chesapeake Bay by prohibiting oyster harvesting in selected areas (Baltimore Sun; oyster plan pdf).Those most affected by the plan will be MD watermen; O’Malley offered them $2.5 M in funding to transition from oyster tonging/dredging to commercial oyster aquaculture (Baltimore Sun). This shift from oyster harvesting to aquaculture in the Chesapeake Bay is just one example of the global trend toward aquaculture.
Not only will oyster aquaculture in the Chesapeake Bay provide jobs to underemployed watermen, but it will reduce stress on overharvested native oysters. Farmed oysters are considered a sustainable seafood product and were awarded Seafood Watch’s “best choice” label, because farmed oysters clean the water as they feed and any spat (juvenile oysters) that are produced as a result of the aquaculture operation can actually repopulate surrounding areas. In many ways, oyster aquaculture is a net benefit for the environment (Ulanowicz and Tuttle et al., 1992), which is not always true for other forms of aquaculture (“Marine Aquaculture in the US,” Pew Oceans Commission Report pdf).
I’d like to thank Governor O’Malley for addressing the oyster crisis in the Chesapeake Bay, and the MD Oyster Advisory Commission, whose January 2009 report (pdf) appears to lay the foundation for much of what Governor O’Malley proposed.
On Wednesday, Dr. Robert Lawrence, founding director of Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), will join EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, former EPA Administer William Ruckelshaus, and HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims for a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington.
The event is being held to screen “Poisoned Waters,” a major PBS Frontline documentary on the effects of polluted runoff on the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound. The press conference will be webcast live beginning at 1 p.m. If you are interested in watching, here are the instructions for the webcast.
Poisoned Waters will be broadcast on PBS’ Frontline on Tuesday, April 21 from 9 to 11 p.m. ET. The trailer is available below. Dr. Lawrence was interviewed extensively by Frontline correspondent Hetrick Smith. He also will be on the Marc Steiner Show tonight!
Poisoned Waters Trailer
Non-native oysters will not be introduced to the Chesapeake Bay, state officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced yesterday. For the past five years, state officials in Virginia and Maryland, along with the Corps of Engineers, have conducted a $17 million study on the feasibility of introducing the Crassostrea ariakensis species to the Bay to rebuild the oyster population. An article in today’s Washington Post quoted Roger Mann, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who discussed the implications of introducing the non-native species. “The problem is, with all of this, that you don’t really know until you do the experiment. Once you’ve done it, it’s too late.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) applauded the decision in a news release issued yesterday. “This decision supports native oyster restoration and says no to further testing of Asian oysters unless it is conducted with no risk to the Bay,” said Roy Hoagland, CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration. “Governors O’Malley (MD) and Kaine (VA) and Col. Anninos (Army Corps) have correctly recognized the dangers that non-native oysters pose as well as the enormous potential for restoration of the native population.” Read More >
In an op-ed published in yesterday’s online edition of the Baltimore Sun, a Center for a Livable Future researcher urges federal and state officials to stay away from the introduction of non-native species in the Chesapeake Bay
Dr. Sharron Nappier, a former CLF Fellow whose research on the Bay’s oyster population was supported by CLF, says the introduction of non-native oysters into the bay may present greater public health consequences for consumers than native oysters. “The ecological benefits provided by the (non native) oyster’s filtration efficiency may have harmful repercussions for the health of consumers,” she warns.
The study conducted by Dr. Nappier while at the Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that non-native oysters were statistically more likely to harbor human viruses than native oysters. The oyster research was published in the November issue of the American Society of Microbiology’s peer-reviewed research journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Dr. Nappier is a research assistant professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her e-mail is email@example.com.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. In the two and half decades since the landmark Bay action agenda was agreed to, Maryland’s watershed clean up initiative has received mixed reviews on its success. As the Washington Post noted, “Despite a quarter-century of work, the bay’s biggest problem — pollution-driven “dead zones,” where fish and crabs can’t breathe — has not significantly improved.” Yet there are important environmental improvement initiatives on the way.
The Post’s editorial page yesterday hailed Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s efforts to protect the Chesapeake by limiting further development along the Maryland shoreline and enacting new measures limiting agriculture runoff from chicken farms, the leading source of harmful nitrogen and phosphorous found in the Bay.
Read More >