Survey Finds Bay Crab Population Strong with Record Number Of Females

Boosted in part by a record number of female blue crabs, the Bay’s crab population remained strong through the winter — something scientists say bodes well both for the crustaceans and those who catch and love to eat them.

Overall, the annual winter dredge survey conducted by Maryland and Virginia estimated that the Bay held 455 million crabs, a decrease from last year’s tally of 553 million. Most of the drop was attributed to a falloff in juvenile crab numbers, which are both more variable and harder to survey.

But survey results released Wednesday showed that the number of female crabs — which have been the focus of conservation efforts for nearly a decade — reached 254 million, a 31 percent increase over last year, and their highest level in the survey’s 28-year history.

As a result, fishery managers expect solid harvests this spring and into early summer, buoyed by the large number of adult crabs from last year. But they warn that the low number of juveniles “recruiting” into the overall population may require some harvest restrictions when the young crabs start reaching market size later this year.

“I’m pretty confident the stock is solid,” said Rom Lipcius, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who helps oversee the annual survey. “But we need to be careful. We can’t just open up the fishery and stuff, especially with what appears to be lower recruitment.”

The survey, conducted in the winter when crabs are normally dormant on the bottom, is a closely watched indicator of the status of the Bay’s most valuable fishery. State fishery managers typically tweak catch levels, both up and down, based on the results compiled by VIMS and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

For instance, the states imposed catch restrictions to reduce the Baywide harvest 10 percent in 2014, when the survey revealed the number of females had sharply dropped. But managers have also eased restrictions when the crabs are found to be more plentiful, as they did last year.

While there have been ups and downs from year to year, survey data show that blue crab abundance has trended upward overall since 2008, when scientists warned the population was dangerously close to collapse. Maryland and Virginia acted together then to impose harvest limits on female crabs, allowing more to survive and reproduce.

Though the total number of crabs was down in this year’s survey, compared to last year, it was still the third highest since 2008.

Harvests have rebounded as well. An estimated 60 million crabs were caught Baywide last year, up from 50 million in 2015, and the record-low of 35 million a year earlier.

“I feel optimistic in the grand scheme of things,” said John M.R. Bull, commissioner of the Virginian Marine Resources Commission. “The trend line is that the stock has improved, and the harvest has improved at the same time.”

This year was the second time since 2008 when the number of female crabs exceeded the Bay target of 215 million recommended by scientists. It was only the third time in the history of the winter dredge survey that it had exceeded that mark.

“The good news is we’ve got a bunch of momma crabs out there,” said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. “Hopefully, they hatch out good.”

Watermen in some areas have been reporting catching a lot of female crabs, Brown said, to the point that some are shifting their gear to try to find more males.

One concern voiced by scientists and fishery managers was the relative dearth of young crabs in the survey. The 125 million baby crabs estimated this winter was the lowest since 2013, and the second lowest since 2007.

Scientists cautioned that the juvenile numbers have the highest level of uncertainty in the survey because the small crabs sometimes move into shallow water where they are hard to find.

Other factors can contribute to wide swings in juvenile numbers, Lipcius said. Juveniles spend the first several weeks of their lives drifting in the ocean after they are spawned, and weather conditions greatly affect the number that return to the Bay. Those that return can suffer heavy predation from fish, and even cannibalism from adult crabs.

“One low year of [juvenile] crabs is not by itself a danger sign,” said Tom Miller, a fisheries scientist and director of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. But, Miller cautioned, two years in a row of low numbers would be cause for concern.

Fishery managers in both states said they may consider action to protect seemingly sparse juveniles, perhaps by curbing catches later this fall and next spring when they reach market size. That would increase the chances that more of them would survive to reproduce and support future harvests.

“We need to be prepared for the challenges ahead of us as it relates to the juveniles,” said Mike Luisi, assistant director of fisheries and boating services with the Maryland DNR. “We want to make sure that we’re not overharvesting on that lower abundance.”

Matt Ogburn, a fisheries scientist who works with blue crabs at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD, said the fact that crab numbers have generally risen in recent years, along with harvests, offers “a good example of how fairly conservative management actions can actually lead to increases in the fishery.”

“As short-lived as they are, blue crab populations can decline very quickly if you’re not careful,” Ogburn said. “But they can also come back quickly if you are conservative about the management. And I think the last decade has proven that out.”

Nonetheless, those decisions can be difficult. A longtime crab manager with the Maryland DNR, Brenda Davis, was fired earlier this year after a group of Eastern Shore watermen complained about her unwillingness to ease crab harvest rules. The firing prompted outrage, and a legislative hearing in Annapolis.

“It’s almost more difficult, scientifically, to manage a rebounding fishery,” said Miller, “because it’s a question of how much is enough . . . if we change the regulations, how much is that going to impact the harvest?”

The winter dredge survey has been conducted annually since 1990 by scientists in Maryland and Virginia, who tally crabs dredged from the bottom at 1,500 sites across the Bay from December through March — when they are buried in mud and stationary. Historically, the survey has provided an accurate snapshot of crab abundance, and is the primary tool for assessing the health of the crab stock.

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Opioid and Heroin Overdoses Have Reached ‘Crisis Level’ In Maryland

When Carin Miller’s son was about 19 years old, he began to abuse heroin by snorting pills, eventually moving on to shooting up. This went on for six years before he got help.

Lucas Miller’s history of drug use started in high school with smoking marijuana. When he moved out of his parents’ house, one of his housemates had access to between 750 to 1,500 pills at any given time between five houses located in Frederick, Maryland.

“My son was addicted to heroin, he’s in recovery by the grace of God since Thanksgiving 2014, I think that’s where we are at,” Miller said.

Opioid overdoses now rank with cancer, strokes and heart attacks among the top killers in Maryland.

State and federal lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at addressing the crisis, although they and public health experts agree the battle will be long.

On April 10, the Maryland General Assembly passed several bills to address this ongoing statewide crisis. The Start Talking Maryland Act, HB1082, and the HOPE Act, HB1329, were both passed.

The HOPE Act would increase access to naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug and would require hospitals to establish a new protocol when discharging patients treated for substance abuse disorders. It also introduced Keep the Door Open, a provision that provides three years of funding to reimburse community health providers. The act also requires the Behavioral Health Administration to establish a crisis treatment center before June 2018.

The Start Talking Maryland Act would require schools to have defined education programs on opioid addiction.

Other opioid related bills passed by the General Assembly were HB1432, which places a restriction on the number of opioid painkillers a doctor can prescribe to a patient per visit, and SB539, a bill that sets new penalties for distributing fentanyl.

The opioid-related legislation have been sent to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for his signature. The governor has until May 30 to either sign or veto the 900 bills passed by the General Assembly; otherwise they automatically become law.

On March 1, Hogan signed an executive order, declaring a state of emergency in response to the heroin, opioids and fentanyl crisis “ravaging communities in Maryland and across the country.”

“We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency,” Hogan said in a statement. “This is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

The final numbers for 2016 are expected to show that approximately 2,000 people died from heroin and other opioid overdoses in the state over the last year, about double the number of deaths in 2015.

Additionally, drug overdose deaths rose by 19.2 percent from 2013 to 2014 in Maryland, according to a press release from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

“There’s no question, no question there has been a spike in opioid overdoses,” Cardin said in an interview with Capital News Service. “Let me indicate the numbers in Maryland are shocking as we are seeing the doubling and tripling over the last couple of years, but the Maryland numbers are typical to what we see all over the country.”

Both Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen backed passage of the 21st Century Cures Act and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 (CARA). Van Hollen was a cosponsor for the 21st Century Cures Act.

“The opioid addiction epidemic is having a devastating impact on communities in Maryland and across the country,” Van Hollen said in a statement for Capital News Service. “I fought to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which helps states expand programs to treat those suffering from addiction, but we must do much more to prevent substance abuse and to get help to those who need it.”

The 21st Century Cures Act was signed by President Barack Obama in December. It will provide $1 billion over two years for state grants to support opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities. CARA, a bipartisan bill, was signed into law by Obama last July. CARA assists drug-dependent newborns and their parents.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services has just awarded Maryland a $10 million grant under the 21st Century Cures Act.

“These grants are a small but encouraging step toward addressing the opioid crisis,” Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, said in a statement. He was among those who pressed for the funds in the law. “But to make real progress in our effort to combat the epidemic, it’s the responsibility of Congress to provide additional resources to programs, families and communities in Maryland and across America that are working day in and day out to end the crisis.”

Van Hollen said there is more to be done with the crisis, including “protecting the significant investments made by the Affordable Care Act, and ensuring institutions like the National Institute for Drug Abuse at NIH in Maryland and others across the country have the resources necessary to carry out their critical missions.”

On March 29, President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a presidential commission designed to combat opioid addiction and the opioid crisis nationwide. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is leading the commission.

A main reason for the doubling of overdoses for Maryland has been a new street drug, fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that dealers are increasingly blending into regular heroin and selling cheaply.

Fentanyl is coming to the United States from China, and that needs to be stopped, Cardin said. The senator added that there also is work to be done with Mexico to stop heroin from flowing from that country.

“We’ve seen an abuse of using these drugs for pain and an abuse of people selling these drugs on the street and getting people addicted,” Cardin said. “There are things we can do to dry up the supply and help people who have addiction and health issues.”

In response to the rise in drug-related deaths, Hogan announced on March 1 that he has budgeted an additional $10 million per year to combat overdoses over the next five years.

Miller said Hogan’s action would help, but more money is needed from the federal government.

Miller is no stranger to opioid abuse as well. She said her husband, Greg Miller, had been abusing opioids since the late 1990s after he was hit by a drunk driver and had an additional, separate accident at work.

It reached a point where her husband’s withdrawals were so terrible that he almost died after being denied narcotics prescriptions at Frederick Memorial Hospital six years ago, Miller said.

“I was trying to get my husband off the pills, never thinking that my own kids would go on them after they saw the hell that I was put through,” Miller said.

Three years ago, Miller co-founded Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates (MHAA), a grassroots organization in Frederick. It was founded “out of necessity,” by a group of women from Frederick in order to save their children from the opioid and heroin epidemic, Miller said.

“We have all been affected in some way, a lot of my colleagues have lost their children to overdoses,” said Miller, who is the president of MHAA.

Miller noted that there is not enough education about these drugs in schools. While one of her colleagues is invited into middle and high schools in Carroll County to give presentations, MHAA is “just nipping the bud” at giving presentations in Frederick County, Miller said.

Frederick County is a 40,000-student district with 10 high schools.

“We really give the principals the autonomy to address any issue in their community,” said Mike Maroke, Frederick County Public Schools deputy superintendent. “They determine if this is something be address or not.”

If the Start Talking Maryland Act is signed by Hogan, it would require schools to have opioid education programs, possibly through presentations such as MHAA’s.

After one presentation at a school, Miller handed out index cards to the students, ranging from seventh to twelfth grades, and asked for their feedback. She recalled what happened next: “One little girl came up to me and handed me her card and it said ‘Thank you for coming out and telling us about drugs because I wouldn’t want to lose any friends because my dad died a couple of months ago from a heroin overdose.’”

 

by Jess Nocera

 

It’s a Wrap: Hogan, Busch, Miller “Proud” of Annapolis Legislative Session

“It was a great session,” Gov. Larry Hogan said about the just closed 90-day meeting of the Maryland General Assembly. “This is the way government is supposed to work…. This was all about compromise.”

“It was a session we can all be proud of,” House Speaker Michael Busch, sitting next to Hogan at a bill signing ceremony Tuesday morning. “This year your staff did a great job.”

House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, told Capital News service that “despite the partisan efforts to kind of drag us into the D.C. post-election theater, we were able to pass some meaningful bills.”

Despite its many battles, Kipke said the 2017 session was the “most bipartisan” he has seen since he took office. Hogan concurred, telling reporters that 2017 was an “incredible, bipartisan session.”

It was so bipartisan that as Republican delegates talked the clock out on a bill expanding medical marijuana licenses, it was Kipke who made the motion to “adjourn sine die” at midnight, a role typically reserved for the House Democratic majority leader. This partially reflected bipartisan distaste for how the bill was written and forced on them by the Senate.

“We got everything done that needed to get done in terms of the legislation,” said Senate President Mike Miller. “We dealt with health care, we dealt with education, we dealt with environment and we dealt with public safety. So I think it was a very good year quite frankly.”

The two parties came together on several significant issues, most notably job creation, opioid abuse, anti-fraud measures, education, and environmental issues.

And in very Democratic Maryland, Republican Hogan continues to be the second most popular governor in Maryland, according to a Morning Consult poll released Tuesday based on an online survey over the last three months.

MANUFACTURING JOBS: The More Jobs for Marylanders Act (SB317) passed with strong bipartisan support. The law is designed to bolster manufacturing jobs in Maryland by offering tax incentives to companies that create jobs in high-unemployment areas and job training programs. Hogan considered the law a core piece of his 2017 agenda and signed it into law Tuesday.

Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery County, often critical of Hogan, described a bipartisan process of senators who worked on the bill with administration representatives.

Mike Galiazzo, president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute, said the bill represented a good signal to manufacturers that Maryland was interested in promoting their businesses, which hadn’t gotten any tax breaks in 15 years.

The lone senator to vote against the bill, Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, had worked on his own version of tax incentives for manufacturers for three years.

Manno called the bill that was signed “a steak dinner for big business and a chicken box for the workers.”

OPIOID ABUSE: Maryland passed restrictions on the quantity of opioid painkillers that can be doled out by doctors in a single visit (HB1432); measures to increase the availability of naloxone — a drug that can counteract the effects of overdose (part of the HOPE act); and introduced steep penalties for people who distribute opioids that later cause the death of another person. The legislature passed a Hogan administration bill setting new penalties for distributing Fentanyl — an extremely potent synthetic opioid that has a high rate of lethal overdoses (SB539).

CRISIS TREATMENT: (UPDATED) The Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort and Treatment Act of 2017 (or HOPE Act, HB1329), which passed late Monday with only one dissenting vote, is a broad response to the state’s opioid crisis. A key provision will increase reimbursement rates for community-based behavioral health providers over the next three years. Community behavioral health providers will receive reimbursement rate increases of 3.5% annually in the next two years and a 3% increase in the third year. This reimbursement increase was the key goal of the Keep the Door Open campaign.

PROTECTING TAXPAYERS: The Taxpayer Protection Act (SB304), a Hogan priority, makes it easier for the state to prosecute fraudulent filers for tax refunds and gives the comptroller’s office greater latitude to investigate tax fraud and identity theft. Comptroller Peter Franchot pushed hard for the legislation, holding conferences and events around the state to drum up support for the bill. It passed this year with unanimous support in the Senate and in the House of Delegates.

CLEAN CARS, WATER: Hogan administration environmental legislation included the Clean Cars Act (HB406), which increases the state’s budget for tax credits for electric vehicles, and the Clean Water Commerce Act, which expands the scope of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration fund to include sediment reduction, but does not include any new funding (SB314). Both had strong support from both Democrats and Republicans.

As always, a majority of proposed bills died, including some with significant support.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Tops among the failed bills was legislation that would expand the number of growing licenses for the state’s medical marijuana industry (HB1443) in an effort to increase diversity in business ownership. Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, said she was “devastated” the House didn’t pass the bill before the midnight deadline. “We have a multi-billion industry with no minorities participating,” Conway said. “…I’m almost speechless.”

SANCTUARY STATUS: Latino delegates were outraged after the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act (SB835) died in the Senate. The bill would have essentially made Maryland a sanctuary state by restricting the involvement of law enforcement agencies in Maryland with federal immigration efforts, banning state government agents from asking crime victims or suspects about their immigration or citizenship status.

Members of the Latino caucus walked off the floor at 4 p.m. Monday to demonstrate their displeasure that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and Miller were blocking the bill.

Del. Jocelyn Peña-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s, shouted that Miller and committee chair Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, were “Democrats in name only” (DINOs). “Shame on you” she said of Zirkin. “I hope your district takes you out.”

Hogan was opposed to the bill as well.

The Capital News Service contributed to this article.

 

The State of New Immigrants on the Mid-Shore

Ever since there’s been a new administration in charge in Washington, the issue of legal and illegal immigration has once again become a complicated issue for not only the country but small communities like Easton and Chestertown on the Mid-Shore. And no one is perhaps in a better position to comment on this current environment then Matthew Peters, director of the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center. Since the Center was formed in 2012, Matt and his colleagues have been on the frontline working with individuals and families to acclimate and adjust to a new country under tough circumstances.

Given the potential for significant changes in immigration laws under the Trump administration, we wanted to check in with Matt about the currents state of affairs.

This video is approximately twelve minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center please go here

Highlights from Congressman Andy Harris’ Town Hall Meeting

While 1st District Congressman Andy Harris has hosted dozens of town hall meetings since he took office in 2011, it is unlikely that he has ever experienced anything like what took place at Chesapeake College Friday evening. With a standing room only crowd over 900 in size, the Congressman attempted to respond to a number of pre written questions on health care, the Trump administration, immigration reform, and the health of the Chesapeake Bay to a generally hostile crowd of Mid-Shore residents.

Here are a few highlights from this evening’s event.

This video is approximately fourteen minutes in length. A broadcast of the entire meeting will air on the Avalon Foundation’s MCTV in Talbot County Monday at 3pm and 9pm. 

Talbot Rising and New Political Activism on the Shore with Mike Pullen

If one only went by appearances, which one shouldn’t, by the way, Mike Pullen would not show any stereotypical traces of a political activist. There are no Birkenstock sandals, no Lenin goatee, nor anything else that leads one to believe he has started a local resistance movement against Donald Trump and his policies in Talbot County.

And perhaps that is the point. Under this new era of Trumpism, a whole new population of concerned citizens has moved outside their comfort zone to voice their opposition to what they see as an attack on the environment, educational policies, and the country’s global leadership.

The career lawyer, having settled in Easton from New England in 1977, has typically not been in the forefront of any political movement. And yet during the presidential election of 2016, he began to fully understand the negative impact on what he calls,”the forgotten middle class,” and felt compelled to take action.

And that move has turned out to be the formation of Talbot Rising, a non-partisan volunteer organization dedicated to mobilizing public opinion and awareness of what Mike and dozens of other Talbot County residents see as a vicious attack on the environment, healthcare, public education, and traditional American values. They have vowed to create a grassroots movement to convince lawmakers that there is strong opposition to these new and dangerous policies.

In anticipation of Congressman Andy Harris’ first town meeting on the Eastern Shore on Friday, the Spy talked to Mike about Talbot Rising and their mission.

This video is approximately four minutes in length.  Congressman Harris will host a town meeting at the Todd Auditorium on the Chesapeake College campus starting at 6pm on March 31st. 

MD Assembly Votes to Block Opening Oyster Sanctuaries to Harvest

Maryland lawmakers voted Tuesday to temporarily block any changes to the state’s oyster sanctuaries, effectively halting a move by the Hogan administration to open some of them to commercial harvest next fall.

By a vote of 32 to 14, the Senate gave final approval to a bill barring adjustments to sanctuary boundaries until the Department of Natural Resources finishes an assessment of the state’s oyster population, expected late next year.

The same measure passed the House two weeks ago, 102-39, so it now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan. Once it reaches his desk, he has six days to sign or veto it, or let it become law without his signature. Though his administration opposed the bill, it received enough votes in each chamber to override his veto.

Environmentalists hailed the vote, saying it headed off what they considered a premature move to open sanctuaries before state fisheries managers have figured out how much harvest pressure Maryland’s oyster population can handle.

Alison Prost, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called it “a very important step for oyster recovery in the Bay.” Oysters, she said, are the state’s only fishery without a stock assessment or a full management plan to ensure it is sustainable. Over watermen’s objections, the General Assembly last year directed the DNR to assess the status of the state’s oyster population and determine a sustainable harvest level, which would be due by Dec. 1, 2018. “This bill makes sure we have that before we make any changes to our protective policy for the sanctuaries,” Prost said.

But Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton issued a statement saying he was disappointed that lawmakers had acted on behalf of “special interest groups” to “upend” the work of the 24-member Oyster Advisory Commission he had appointed last year. That group, about half of its members representing or sympathetic to the oyster industry, has been meeting since July and discussing possible changes to the state’s management of its sanctuaries, its public fishery and restoration efforts. Belton said the legislature’s vote “demonstrates a disdain of the commission’s progress and for science itself.”

Last year, a five-year review by the DNR staff concluded that while oysters appeared to be doing well on many of the sanctuaries, others were not meeting expectations for survival or reproduction and might be candidates for opening to harvest. But the report also noted that five years was too short a time to evaluate the overall performance of the sanctuaries, and that there was little or no data on which to make a judgement.

Watermen have been lobbying the Hogan administration to revisit the 2010 decision by former Gov. Martin O’Malley to provide more refuges for the Bay’s depleted oyster population, which, because of overharvesting, habitat loss and disease, is now estimated to be less than 1 percent of historic levels. O’Malley, stressing the need to protect oysters for their ecological value as natural water filters and habitat for other fish and crabs, expanded the state’s sanctuaries to encompass 24 percent of the viable oyster habitat in the Maryland portion of the Bay. Watermen say the expansion deprived them of some of their best harvest areas, and they’ve stepped up their appeals this year, because a flare-up of oyster diseases has contributed to a slump in the harvest this season.

Last month, the DNR staff, drawing on proposals from county watermen’s committees and from environmental groups, presented a draft plan that would declassify all or portions of seven of the state’s 51 sanctuaries, while creating three new protected areas and expanding four existing ones. But the net effect of the changes would shrink the acreage of oysters protected from harvest by 11 percent. In those opened sanctuaries, watermen had pledged to invest funds allotted to them by the state to build up and seed the reefs with hatchery-spawned oysters, then to harvest them four years later on a “rotational” basis.

But the plan provoked an outcry among environmentalists, who contended the sanctuaries shouldn’t be touched until more was known about the status of the oyster population and the impact of the annual commercial harvest. “You can’t go back,’’ Prost said. “Once these sanctuaries were open to harvest, it would not take more than a few weeks of the season to decimate the structures that may be there or the oysters that may be on the recovery path.”

Eastern Shore senators tried to blunt the impact of the legislation with a series of amendments that would have left room for the DNR to make at least some changes to sanctuaries. Oysters can’t make it on their own, they argued, so need the kind of management watermen could provide. “We have distressed sanctuaries,” said Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, a Republican representing the mid-Shore. “Without adequate investment in any of the bottom, we will not grow oysters.”

But Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat who is chair of the committee that heard the bill, countered that the DNR stock assessment is needed to identify sanctuaries that are faltering as well as public fishery areas. At her urging, all the Shore lawmakers’ amendments were soundly defeated.

Belton had appealed to lawmakers to let the commission continue its work without interference and try to work out a plan that everyone could accept. At the commission’s last meeting March 21, Belton had said his staff would revise its earlier draft to try to respond to complaints from both environmentalists and watermen. “Today’s vote was based on fear, not the facts,” the natural resources secretary said.

But Prost countered that the vote assured that the DNR would have more facts before it decided the fate of the state’s sanctuaries. “Once we know how many oysters are out there and have actual management strategies based on that stock assessment, then we can discuss if these fallow sanctuaries … could be opened up and made productive,” she said. “But we don’t know how many oysters are in the Bay, how many can be taken out every year (or) how many acres really need to be in sanctuary.”

Jeff Harrison, president of the Talbot Waterman’s Association and a member of the Oyster Advisory Commission, called the bill’s passage a “detriment” to the panel’s work. He said the panel was simply trying to follow the guidelines set in 2010 when the sanctuary system was expanded, to review the protected areas’ performance and use “adaptive management.”

“This basically means that if something isn’t working, instead of doing the same thing, we should try something different,” Harrison said.

Of 28 sanctuaries regularly monitored by the DNR, he said, the department’s five-year review found that 75 percent either had the same or lower abundance of oysters. The advisory commission was talking about opening some, he noted, so the industry could try restocking them with shell and seed oysters and then subjecting them to a rotational harvest every four years.

Harrison cited as an example a sanctuary in the upper Chester River, one of those sanctuaries that has had no work done on it since 2010 and that the DNR review found has lower abundance and biomass since then. Harrison contended the upper Chester would have been a prime spot to try the watermen’s plan for rotational harvest. With the bill’s passage, it can’t be tried now, which he said “as far as I am concerned, (is) a loss for the state and the Chester River.”

by Timothy B Wheeler

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Shore Progressives Prepare to Address Health Care, Other Issues At Harris Town Hall

Members of Eastern Shore progressive organizations, along with thousands of non-partisan progressive citizens groups formed to oppose the Trump agenda, are relieved that the Affordable Care Act has so far survived Republican attempts to repeal it.

“The persistent and strong national grassroots activism of these groups played a major role in the ultimate failure of the Republicans to bring a replacement bill up for a vote,” said Emily Jackson, co-leader of Together We Will – Delmarva.

Acknowledging that the ACA can be improved, many members of Talbot Rising are proponents of a single-payer system. “If 35 of the world’s developed nations can provide healthcare to all their citizens as a right, not a privilege based on income, we can do it here too,” said Denice Lombard, a member of Talbot Rising and the Talbot County Democratic Women’s Club. “A single-payer system fixes all the problems of healthcare we face. It’s high quality, affordable and accessible.”

Lombard dismissed the notion that individuals and states should pick and choose what kind of healthcare they need. “All of our bodies need healthcare at different times in our lives,” she said. “None of us has a crystal ball to see what our health care needs will be, and all of these arguments twist our society into a giant pretzel that ultimately protects the rights of for-profit insurance companies over people.”

Although many constituents had planned to press 1st District Rep. Andy Harris on the Republican healthcare bill at his town hall, scheduled for Friday, March 31, at 6 p.m. at Chesapeake College’s Todd Performing Arts Center, turnout is expected to be strong even though GOP leadership failed to muster enough votes to pass the bill last week.

“We have plenty of other issues to discuss with our congressman,” said Talbot Rising founder Michael Pullen. “We want Andy Harris to represent our interests, but when he co-sponsors a bill to undermine public education, one to withhold federal funds from communities that want to protect immigrants from deportation and provide sanctuary for them, and when he comes out in support of destroying the EPA, people can’t just stand by and let that happen without a fight,” said Pullen. “While Trump proposes to add $54 billion of our tax dollars to the defense budget while taking money away from the needs of the American people and the environment, we have no choice but to protest.”

Dorotheann S. Sadusky, president of the Democratic Club of Queen Anne’s County also weighed in. “As a member of the Labor, Health & Human Services Committee, Congressman Harris must tell us if he intends to support Trump’s budget that calls for elimination of such agencies as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Inter-American Foundation and the Chemical Safety Board to name a few.”

Harris set aside only one hour for the town hall in a venue that holds 1,000 people. Several regional progressive organizations have requested that Harris extend the length of the meeting and have vowed to continue the town hall outside with or without the congressman. “We will be heard one way or the other, rain or shine,” said Debbie Krueger, co-leader, of Together We Will – Delmarva.

Annapolis: Democrats Blast Hogan Silence on Bay Cleanup Cuts as Administration Fires Back

Democrats in Annapolis Thursday railed against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for not doing enough to protect the Chesapeake Bay under the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Bay cleanup plan and under a new EPA administrator historically hostile to environmental regulations.

“The Bay can’t speak for itself obviously and needs a spokesperson,” said Senate President Mike Miller, leading a press conference of House and Senate Democratic leaders. “Obviously the person in the highest office in the state is not speaking out for the Chesapeake Bay, so we’re here to say this Bay is ours, it’s the largest estuary in the world…and we’re going to protect our Chesapeake Bay.”

(The world’s largest estuary, where fresh water combines with saltwater from the ocean, is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, according to numerous sources. The Chesapeake is the largest in the U.S.)

Miller, whose home overlooks the bay at Chesapeake Beach, said progress has been made to bring back the canvasback duck and rockfish populations and establish oyster sanctuaries “and we’re not going to retreat,” Miller said.

Conspiracy of silence

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said the Hogan administration has been guilty of a “conspiracy of silence” since the federal budget came out last week with $73 million in proposed cuts to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, which was enacted in 2010 to put the Bay on pollution diet to reduce nutrients flowing into it.

“The program, the resources and the oversight…have been cut and not a word from the second floor,” Pinsky said. “It is a conspiracy of silence and it is guilt of omission.”

“Without that program we are going to slide backwards not only losing that $73 million but the oversight and push from the federal government. Without that we have a major problem,” Pinsky said.

Pinsky said Hogan’s support of a bill to weaken penalties on oyster poachers and the firing of scientists, had become an act of commission. He was referring to the recent firing of Brenda Davis, blue crab fisheries manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who spent 28 years at the agency.

She was supposedly fired for setting limits on the size of crabs that could be harvested after July 15 every year to 5 ¼ inches.

Lawsuit compelled enforcement

Maryland’s Bay cleanup plan was the result of a lawsuit won by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2010 that compelled the EPA to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act. Under a consent decree, states in the Chesapeake Watershed, from New York to Virginia, were required to implement plans to reduce nutrient pollution, bringing the Bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2025.

Kim Coble, the foundation’s vice president for environmental protection and restoration, said the “bay is improving” because of a 35-year state and federal partnership that started with President Ronald Reagan.

“Our ‘State of the Bay’ report this year has the highest reporting level we’ve ever had,” Coble said. “We have improved water clarity and the [population] of oysters and crabs and underwater grasses are coming back. And all of this is at risk.”

Administration pushback

The administration answered the Democratic leadership with a little sarcasm and it defended Hogan’s record on the Bay.

“With two weeks left in the session, we wish that the majority leadership would focus on doing their jobs here in Annapolis instead of focusing on Washington, D.C. partisan politics,” the statement said. “The governor has already made it clear that he will always fight for the Chesapeake Bay and that he opposes hypothetical cuts at the federal level.”

“Our administration will continue to support the Bay at record levels in the state budget, which has included over $3 billion for the Bay since taking office. We are happy to see that the presiding officers have seen the light on Bay restoration funding, given their support for the past administration raiding over $1 billion from restoration efforts.”

“President Miller and Speaker Busch promised that their entire focus this session would be on Washington politics; at least that’s one promise they’ve delivered on.”

Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican left in the Maryland congressional delegation, said last week: “The Chesapeake Bay is a treasure, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to working with the administration to prioritize programs within the Environmental Protection Agency that would preserve Bay cleanup efforts.”

By Dan Menefee

Mid-Shore Political Organizations Ask Andy Harris to Expand Town Meeting Beyond One Hour

Numerous 1st District constituent organizations are demanding that Rep. Harris extend the Town Hall scheduled for March 31 beyond one hour. The Town Hall is scheduled from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Friday, March 31, at the Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills.

“It is clear that one hour will not begin to give Harris’ constituents the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns,” said Mike Pullen, a leading member of Talbot Rising, a group of concerned citizens from the Mid-Shore area. “So many of us on the Eastern Shore are worried about how congressional actions will affect us and feel that Rep. Harris has not represented our interests well.”

“His constituents deserve answers and a fair chance to voice their concerns,”Emily Jackson, from Together We Will – Delmarva, says. “Regardless of whether we voted for him or not, as constituents of his district it is important to feel that he is serving our best interests, and how is that
possible if he only allows interactions with him in such limited capacities as his very moderated
conference calls, and this constricted town hall?”

James Sweeting, of the African American Democratic Club of Maryland, weighed in as well. “Harris has co-sponsored or supported bills that many people oppose such as HR 610, which takes funding away from elementary and high schools, eliminates nutritional standards for school children, and virtually eliminates special education programs. Rep. Harris is cosponsoring HR 637 which amends the Clean Air Act to allow dangerous polluting chemicals to be released into our environment. These are important issues that need to be fully and openly discussed. Rep. Harris owes his constituents a fair chance to do
that.”

Another burning issue Harris’ constituents want to discuss with him is healthcare. The Affordable Care Act expanded coverage to millions of Marylanders, reducing its uninsured rate by a third, and its repeal will cost Maryland $2 billion per year. The State will be forced to raise that money or eliminate healthcare delivery services. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that approximately 18 million people will lose coverage next year and that those numbers will increase over time. “If Congress passes the bill before it, which includes eliminating Planned Parenthood, where will women on Medicaid receive healthcare and birth control?” asks Joyce Scharch, President of the Talbot County Democratic Women’s Club. “Whatever form it takes, we want assurance from Harris that he will fight for his constituents to have affordable access to the healthcare they need.”

The American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, AARP, and many other organizations are openly opposing adoption of the current bill before Congress.

“Congressman Harris has consistently overlooked the Eastern Shore and his constituents in terms of economic development, infrastructure improvements, failing to provide for adequate healthcare and now as part of the Trump team he states he will prioritize funding for Chesapeake Bay’s cleanup knowing the EPA’s budget is being slashed,” said Dorotheann S. Sadusky, President of the Democratic Club of Queen Anne’s County.

Attendees plan to gather outside afterwards to raise further questions for the congressman if the town hall is not extended. “People have questions and concerns, and they need a forum in which to voice them. If the Congressman isn’t going to give them that, they’re going to find their own space in which to do it,” Jackson said.

This release was distributed by the following organizations: Talbot Rising Together We Will – Delmarva Democratic Club of Queen Anne’s County Talbot County Democratic Women’s Club African American Democratic Club of Maryland