Talbot County High Schools Listed Nationally as “Most Challenging”

The Washington Post’s Education Columnist Jay Matthews has released his annual ranking of America’s Most Challenging Schools reflecting how well the nation’s top high schools challenge their students. Easton High School is ranked #1471 in the nation, and Saint Michaels High is #2245!

U.S. Department of Education statistics indicate that there are 26,407 public secondary schools and 10,693 private secondary schools across the United States. This means both Talbot County high schools fall in the top 6% of all high schools in the nation according to this ranking.

The ranking is determined through an index formula that’s a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year. According to Mr. Matthews, only about 12 percent of U.S. high schools qualify to be ranked.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment for both of our high schools,” said Dr. Helga Einhorn, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, “ and a direct result of the commitment of our district to give all of our students the opportunity to experience the rigor of college level courses before they graduate.”

Allison Galbraith Announces for Congress

Allison Galbraith is running for Congress.

Allison Galbraith

A small business owner and single mother from Harford County, Galbraith threw her hat into the ring on May 12 as a Democratic challenger for Rep. Andy Harris’s First District seat. Following the official campaign kickoff in Bel Air, she traveled to Chestertown and Salisbury to begin building a base of supporters on the Eastern Shore.

Galbraith’s Chestertown stop was at the Book Plate bookstore. About 20 attended, and the candidate, instead of giving a stump speech, engaged in a lively 40-minute question-and-answer session.

Tom Martin, owner of the store, opened the session by asking Galbraith about her background.

Galbraith said she is the daughter of two college professors. A University of Maryland graduate, she is “amicably separated” from her husband, a military veteran, and has a 9-year-old son and a stepson. She said her business specializes in program management and streamlining projects for the Department of Defense and in consulting with industries bidding on federal contracts involving medical technology that often ends up in civilian applications.

Asked why she is seeking the congressional seat, Galbraith said, “I think we need the perspective of the people in Congress.” The money it takes to run, and the sacrifices it takes to run are a deterrent to “everyday people” who might seek office, she said. “Right now, everything in our lives is under attack; we don’t know what’s going to be taken from us.”

She said her business was made possible by her ability to purchase private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Gender-based criteria such as having had a C-section were considered pre-existing conditions, making the rates unaffordable for her before the ACA. “If they’re going to take my health insurance and they’re going to take my business, I’m going down fighting,” she said. “And it’s not just for me, it’s for every one of us who isn’t adequately represented in Congress. Our voices are not heard, especially with Andy Harris,” who she said votes for the interests of his financial supporters “on the backs of working Americans.”

“I’m one of the working Americans,” Galbraith said. “Aren’t you sick of being trampled on by the  Republicans in government?”

Galbraith said she had spent considerable time traveling throughout the First District even before launching her campaign, “and I don’t intend to stop.” She said candidates from both parts of the district, the Eastern Shore and the Western Shore, tend to neglect the other half of the district, “and it’s not doing any of us any good.” She said she planned to visit each county “at least quarterly,” and that she would be available through social media and texting. “I have a lot of energy, I can run around the district and put 20,000 miles on my car. We deserve that from our reps, right?”

In terms of strategy, she said the Democrats need to flip about 45,000 votes to take back the district. To do so, she said she would probably fight for progressive values using “more conservative framing” of the issues. “If there were a party of critical thinking, that’s what I’d run as,” she said, but she places great importance of issues of personal rights and individual freedoms.

Other questions went into specifics including gun control (“responsible gun ownership is not a threat”), health care (“the health care system will never work out for us as long as they’re profiting by denying us care”), infrastructure (“we’re one of the richest states in the country, and there are parts of this district that don’t even have reliable internet access”), and public education (“if we care about the future, we need to care about education and preparing people for their future.”) Her answers were detailed and energetic, often drawing on personal experience.

A telling moment came when an audience member challenged her to respond to what he said would be the Republican characterization of her as “a tax-and-spend liberal” who doesn’t care about fiscal responsibility. “I have a proven record of saving millions of dollars a year for the federal government,” she said. “In terms of fiscal responsibility, I have a one-up on (Harris) because I actually save the government money.”

At the end of the visit, Galbraith’s campaign manager said her website,  gives her positions on a range of issues. Also, anyone interested can sign up on the site for notifications of events near them, he said. He said she plans to have a serallison@allisonforcongress.comies of small, informal meetings to allow people to meet her and discuss issues with her in a living-room type setting. If her appearance at the Book Plate is any sample, they would appear to be well worth attending.

Grading the Choptank’s Health with Riverkeeper Matt Pluta

Around this time every year, there is a certain amount of excitement and anxiety as the Mid-Shore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) publishes its annual report card on the environmental condition of the Choptank, Miles, and Wye Rivers water quality status. And one of those individuals who is perhaps more anxious than most is Matt Pluta, the Riverkeeper for the Choptank.

His interest in the Choptank goes beyond the mere fact that it is by far one of the most complex parts of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem. The Choptank also has the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluted, if not the most polluted, river in the entire region.

But as Matt points out in his interview with the Spy to discuss this year’s scores, the Choptank is really two very distinct spheres. And this year the organization made a decision to evaluate the Upper Choptank in the Lower Choptank as separate systems. The rationale being that each section news its water quality strategies as a result of the different ways that the water system is used.

The Spy talk to Matt last week about the overall health of the Choptank and what he anticipates to be the best approach to achieving better scores in the years ahead.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Mid-Shore Riverkeeper Conservancy please go here.

Port Street Plan Study Starts to Look at Affordable Housing

While it is too early to have any concrete ideas on the table as to how a Port Street Master Plan might look, the Easton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) took a few important steps over the last three days to start this important visioning process with a special focus on affordable housing.

Through a series of workshops and discussion sessions, the EEDC, working in collaboration with Place, a nonprofit organization specializing in affordable live-work design, began to solicit ideas from a variety of stakeholders on how the Port Street Plan could include innovative ideas on how to accomplish this important goal.

One important aspect of this planning process is to understand what other communities, both large and small, are finding creative solutions to housing needs. And that is where Place’s executive director Chris Velasco helped at Wednesday night’s community meeting at the Talbot County Free Library in Easton when he shared with his nonprofit has done with a variety of different projects throughout the United States.

The Spy was there to capture some of those inspiring examples that Chris highlighted.

This video is approximately twenty minutes in length. For more information about the Port Street Project and the Easton Economic Development Corporation please go here.

The Good Stuff: MSCF Hands Out $500K in Mid-Shore Scholarships

There are some very special days in the life of the Mid-Shore throughout the year, but very few of them can match the joy and the hope that comes with the annual distribution of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation scholarship fund to deserving young people in all five counties.

Last Saturday morning at the Talbot Country Club, Foundation president Buck Duncan, along with the MSCF Scholarship Fund co-John Lewis and programs director Robin Hill, handed out over a half million dollars of scholarship funding for eighty-one high school and college students from thirty-five different funds at the MSCF. Those awards ranged from $500-$20,000.

The Spy was there to capture the award ceremony and shared these excerpts to share this great moment for the Eastern Shore.

This video is approximately seventeen minutes in length.  For more information about the Mid-Shore Community Foundation and its scholarship program please go here

Rep. Andy Harris Will Vote Yes on Latest Version of Obamacare Replacement

House Republicans have an updated bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, and Rep. Andy Harris has told The Hill  (thehill.com) that he will be voting for it. The updated bill includes a key amendment from that would allow states to opt out of some ObamaCare rules, including provisions on minimum coverage requirements and allowing insurers to charge more based on individuals’ health.

Those changes were designed to win over conservatives like Harris, a member of the House Freedom Caucus The new legislation has been backed by the Freedom Caucus and outside groups including the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. A mix of centrists and conservatives objected to the earlier ObamaCare bill, forcing GOP leaders to call off a planned vote. No Democrats are expected to vote for the measure, meaning Republicans can only afford 22 defections.

For more on this story, please go here

 

 

Chesapeake College Announces President Barbara Viniar’s Departure; Former President Stuart Bounds to Become Interim

The Chesapeake College Board of Trustees has announced that Dr. Barbara Viniar’s term as President of the College will conclude on July 1, 2017. The Trustees appreciate Dr. Viniar’s efforts on behalf of the College over the past nine years and wish her well in her future endeavors.

Dr. Stuart Bounds has been appointed Interim President of the College effective July 1, 2017. Dr. Bounds retired from the College in 2008 after 11 years as president. Since retiring as President, Dr. Bounds has remained active in the community college field, both as a consultant and as an adjunct professor of political science at Chesapeake. The Board is delighted that Dr. Bounds has agreed to return to the College in this interim role and believes that his executive experience at Chesapeake and deep understanding of the Mid-Shore community will be a great asset to the College and to the Board during the transition period.

The search for a new president of the College will commence this summer. The Board will engage and consult with the College community, the College’s five supporting counties and other key stakeholders in the development of a plan for the search, and in the evaluation and selection of the sixth president of Chesapeake College.

Chesapeake College has provided 50 years of outstanding service to the Mid-Shore community and the Board is committed to finding an exceptional community college leader to guide the College into the future. With that leadership and the extraordinary talent and resources within the College and throughout the community, the College’s role as the primary provider of higher education and workforce training in the region will continue to expand and, thereby help to ensure a bright future for the Mid-Shore.

Some Good News: Chesapeake Underwater Grasses up 8%; Acreage Highest in Decades

Underwater grasses, one of the most closely watched indicators of Chesapeake Bay health, surged to the highest levels seen in decades, according to survey results for 2016. This is the second straight year that grasses have set a record.

Nearly 100,000 acres of the Bay’s and its tidal tributaries were covered by the underwater meadows, which provide habitat for juvenile fish and blue crabs, as well as food for waterfowl.

That was an 8 percent increase over 2015, and more than twice what was in the Bay just four years ago. “It was an impressive year following a previously impressive year and we are at numbers that we’ve not seen — ever,” said Bob Orth, an underwater grass expert with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who oversees the annual aerial survey, which began 33 years ago.

Like all green plants, submerged grasses need sunlight to survive, and the clearer the water, the more sun they get. Because of the link to water clarity, the annual survey of Bay grasses — often referred to by scientists as SAV, for submerged aquatic vegetation — is considered a key indicator of how the Bay is doing.

In their own right, grass beds are also a critical component of the Bay ecosystem. In addition to providing food for waterfowl and shelter for fish and crabs, they also pump oxygen into the water and trap sediments.

Restoring underwater grass beds is one of the goals of the nutrient and sediment reductions aimed at cleaning up the Bay, as water clouded by sediment or nutrient-fueled algae blooms can be lethal to grass beds.

The Bay’s underwater grasses were knocked back to 48,195 acres by the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in late summer 2011, which sent a flood of nutrients and sediment into the Chesapeake.

But relatively dry conditions since then, which reduced the flow of nutrients and sediments into the Bay, have helped the grasses recover. The result has been unusually clear water in many areas. In fact, some grass beds are becoming so large and robust that they may be able to withstand at least some severe weather events, scientists said.

Water has been so clear in places like the Upper Bay’s Susquehanna Flats, that scientists reported dense grass beds extending into deeper areas where they had disappeared in the wake of Tropical Storm Lee.

Brooke Landry, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Bay Program’s SAV work group, said that when she visited the flats on a field trip to train citizen scientists last summer, the beds were not only expanding but included an “incredible diversity” of species — at least 11.

“It was beautiful,” she said of the bed, which reached 5,993 acres last year. “We definitely saw grasses deeper than I would have expected, and the water was crystal clear.”

Overall, the survey mapped 97,433 acres in 2016. That was an 8 percent increase over the 92,315 acres observed the previous year.

But in 2016, the aerial survey was not able to map some areas due to a mix of weather and security restrictions near the District of Columbia and the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Specifically, parts of the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers, including Piscataway Creek, were not surveyed in 2016, although they had been mapped the year before.

If those areas had the same amount of grass beds as in 2015, last year’s acreage would have increased by nearly 2,000 acres for a Baywide total of about 99,400, said David Wilcox, a VIMS analyst who works on the survey. But even that number is conservative, Wilcox said, because grass beds near the unmapped areas also appeared to have expanded last year.

Last year’s mapped acreage represented 53 percent of the Baywide goal of 185,000 acres, and it exceeded an interim target of 90,000 acres set for 2017 under the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

One caveat is that much of the recovery is in the moderate-salinity areas of the Mid Bay, a region dominated by widgeon grass, which is a notorious “boom and bust” species that can disappear as rapidly as it pops up. More than half of all underwater grasses in the Bay are found in that area, and it accounted for most of last year’s increase as well.

“In 2003, we lost about half of the widgeon grass,” Wilcox cautioned. “If that were to happen next year, our story would be very different, because there’s so much widgeon grass out there.”

But scientists said they were encouraged that, at least in some places, they were starting to see other underwater species mix with the widgeon grass, which may help make the beds more durable over time.

“We’re starting to observe additional species in beds that were just widgeon grass, like redhead grass and sago pondweed, which is a great sign,” Landry said. “So if widgeon grass does crash, in some areas at least, these other species will continue to provide those ecosystem services Bay grasses are so important for.”

Though grasses improved Baywide, the survey found that trends varied in different salinity zones around the Bay (the following numbers compare acreages only for areas that could be mapped in both 2015 and 2016):

• The tidal freshwaters at the head of the Bay and in the uppermost tidal reaches of most tributaries, saw a 9 percent increase over 2015, to 17,319 acres.

• The slightly salty “oligohaline” waters that occupy a relatively small portion of the Upper Bay and tidal tributaries, experienced a 16 percent decrease, to 8,503 acres.

• The moderately salty “mesohaline” waters — the largest area of underwater grass habitat, stretching from near Baltimore south to the Rappahannock River and Tangier Island and including large sections of most tidal rivers — had an increase of 20 percent, covering 57,380 acres.

• The very salty “polyhaline” waters in the Lower Bay — from the mouth of the Rappahannock and Tangier Island south, including the lower York and James rivers — had 14,226 acres, which was a 15 percent decrease.

Scientists said it was unclear why grasses declined in some parts of the oligohaline zone. But observations suggested that, at least in some places, the decline was in hydrilla, a nonnative species that is often quick to colonize unvegetated areas. But hydrilla is also sensitive to higher salinities, and scientists said drier conditions (and therefore higher salinity) in some rivers might have caused localized diebacks.

Normally, declines in polyhaline waters are from diebacks of eelgrass, the dominant species in that region — which is always a concern because eelgrass can be slow to recover after setbacks. In fact, it’s been generally declining since the early 1990s. But based on limited observations, Orth said the overall declines in that area last year seemed to be caused by a loss of widgeon grass, even though that species had greatly expanded in other parts of the Bay.

“Widgeon grass has always been one of these dynamic species that comes and goes,” he said.

Except for 1988, the survey has been conducted annually in the Bay since 1984, when just 38,229 acres were observed — the lowest ever seen. The Bay’s 185,000-acre goal is based on actual acreages that could be observed in historical photographs of the Bay, taken for other purposes during the early and mid-1990s.

Details about the survey, including aerial photos of grass beds from around the Bay, are at vims.edu/bio/sav.

By Karl Blankenship

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.

Maryland Could Host the Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm

The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, giving Maryland the potential to host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.

The companies — US Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build turbines off the coast, using wind to generate clean energy. The turbines are connected to transmission lines that travel underground, carrying the energy to substations to be stored, distributed and used.

The approval of just one farm would put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission could potentially approve both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee increase for ratepayers, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Communications Director Tori Leonard.

Maryland is required to produced a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, they can purchase energy credits known as ORECs from out-of-state vendors, and vice versa. An OREC, or Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit, is a way of bundling and selling the clean electricity produced by wind farms.

Maryland’s current standard has a specific carve-out for offshore wind energy of up to 2.5 percent per year. Until an offshore wind project is approved and running, the 2.5 percent of renewable energy is being fulfilled by other fuels, like solar or geothermal energy.

The cost of the credits is capped, so a residential ratepayer would not pay more than $1.50 per month more, and a non-residential rate payer, like a small business owner, would not pay more than 1.5 percent more per month.

“For less than a cup of coffee (per month for homeowners), we can produce cleaner energy,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, calling the decision a no-brainer.

If the commission approves both projects, the estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with US Wind’s totaling 0.96 percent and Deepwater Wind’s totaling 0.43 percent. The estimated monthly residential rate would increase by $1.44, with US Wind’s being $0.99 per month and $0.45 per month, according to a March 21 report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into law the Offshore Wind Act of 2013. This law set the parameters for wind farms in Maryland, clarifying where they could be located, requiring the commission’s approval, and authorizing the state to provide and purchase energy credits from these wind farms.

The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs Act during the 2017 General Assembly session. Under the law, which the governor argued passed along too many additional costs to ratepayers, the state’s requirement for renewable-energy sourced electricity increased from 20 percent by the year 2022 to 25 percent by the year 2020.

Those who support Maryland offshore wind believe the farms will produce clean air, bring jobs to the state, and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.

Opponents are concerned about the costs, and how the visual impact of the turbines would affect tourism and the possible negative affect it could have on the community.

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service she believes a wind farm could help Maryland reach its renewable energy goal. “Given the fact that the state of Maryland has made commitments to expand renewable energy, this is a perfect time to do it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said while she does not have any comment on which proposal she prefers, it would be a disappointment if the commission did not approve either project.

“I hope the Public Service Commission decides to go forward with this,” Lewis said earlier this month. “I look forward to the possibility of creating more jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and having clean air.”

On Nov. 22, the Public Service Commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by US Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings, LLC.

The US Wind project occupies a Maryland leasing area, while the Deepwater Wind farm is projected to be built in a Delaware leasing area. Both projects will bring clean energy to Maryland.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said he believes his company’s project would benefit Maryland in a manageable way, with a strategy to develop the project in different phases.

“We’re the most experienced developer and we’ve proposed a smaller project with an aggressive price,” Plummer said, comparing his company’s proposal to the competing US Wind project.

Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project would consist of 15 wind turbines about 19.5 miles off the coast, Plummer said. “It will be a 120 megawatt project, which is enough to power about 35,000 houses in the state of Maryland,” Plummer said.

The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company’s website.

The US Wind farm proposal includes 187 turbines, which would create up to 750 megawatts of power, enough to power 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to Paul Rich, the director of project development for US Wind.

The company expects to have the project built by 2020, Rich told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. US Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.

There are reportedly about 2 million households in the state, according to the U.S. Census. Maryland gets its energy from coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.

While the US Wind project is closer to shore, expected to be built 12 to 17 miles off the coast, there are reports from Europe that the view attracts tourists, according to Rich. “They’ll be seen, although minuscule. I think the upshot is that there are people who want to see them; people see them as a bright side of the future,” Rich said.

Rich said they have reached out to the Public Service Commission to discuss the potential for the US Wind project to be moved five miles further from the coast to address visual concerns. If this happened, the current layout for the farm would change. Rich confirmed this move is not definite, but is a discussion he hopes to engage in.

Lars Thaaning, the co-CEO of Vineyard Wind, a company under Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners that has managed and invested in European offshore wind farms, spoke at an April 20 Business Network for Offshore Wind Conference about the differences between building in Europe versus building in Maryland.

Thaaning said the industry in the United States is still new and developing while the industry in Europe has been established. America needs more infrastructure investment, according to Thaaning. “There will not be a long-term market (for offshore wind in America) if we do not establish a supply chain,” Thaaning said.

The Public Service Commission held two public hearings — March 25 in Berlin, Maryland, and March 30 in Annapolis — where legislators and constituents testified on the proposals.

Don Murphy, a Catonsville, Maryland, resident who said he plans to retire in Ocean City, testified against the wind farm proposals at the hearing in Berlin.

Murphy said the project proposals made him feel outraged, horrified and speechless.

“The decisions you make could have an adverse impact on Maryland’s greatest economic engine, Ocean City,” Murphy said. The sight of the wind turbines could impact tourism in Ocean City, according to Murphy.

Murphy proposed that Maryland hold off building these wind farms until the industry is more established, with the fear that they would make headway on the project and regret doing so without proper research.

“It’s said that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Murphy said. “Why rush into this venture when you can wait long enough to just (receive) the benefits?”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged Murphy’s concerns during his testimony. “I am concerned about our community and about, as I said, 26,000 property owners and over 8 million visitors that come to Ocean City every year,” Meehan said. Meehan reiterated Murphy’s point that the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision.

“I believe we should more forward, but we only have one chance to get this right,” Murphy said. “…We ought to make sure that we’re not asking questions later that we didn’t have the answers to in the beginning. I can assure you, once this starts, there will be questions.”

Multiple people who gave testimony in Annapolis addressed the concerns from those opposed for aesthetic reasons. One man testifying asked those in the room to raise their hands if they found turbines aesthetically beautiful, to which many people responded in favor.

James McGarry, the Maryland and D.C. policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, urged the Public Service Commission to take action and be the leader for offshore wind. “Maryland is one of the most vulnerable (states) in the country from climate change with sea level rises,” McGarry said.

“Maryland can be a central hub,” he said, during his March 30 testimony.

Morgan Folger, an environment and health fellow for Environment Maryland, testified March 30 that she believed the United States as a whole was behind the curve when it comes to wind energy and that Maryland should take the steps to expand the industry in the country.

“We all breathe the same air and we all drink the same water,” Folger said. “We’re all equally impacted by the pollution.”

Leonard confirmed the last date for the commission to decide to approve one or both projects is May 17.

By Cara Newcomer

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.