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What Have You Got Against Sturgeon?

That’s a question for Congressman Andy Harris

Fisheries scientists measure an Atlantic sturgeon before returning it to the water. <<photo BY NOAA>>

The sturgeon is not the star of Chesapeake ­osteichthyes, the bony fish of the world. That limelight falls on striped bass, the rockfish.
    Atlantic sturgeon — finning around the bottom of rivers sucking up aquatic macroinvertebrates, freshwater mussels, snails, crustaceans and small fish — barely make the cast of characters.
    They don’t make anglers’ hearts race in anticipation of fight and feast. As Atlantic sturgeon are an endangered species, you couldn’t catch one even if you wanted to. And you probably wouldn’t, though in colonial times they were much eaten, for flesh and roe.
    They are not pretty. Atlantic sturgeon and all their brethren have long snouts, whiskers and saurian rows of spines. Evolved with the earliest dinosaurs, they still get awfully big, ours up to 14 feet and 800 pounds; others bigger still. They live for decades, taking time slowly. The males don’t reach reproductive maturity until they are at least five years old, females perhaps three times that.
    But they’re ours. Atlantic sturgeon have been returning to their natal Chesapeake rivers to spawn since who knows when, in ever decreasing numbers.
    Thus our environmental protectors both state and federal are invested in saving what sturgeon we have and encouraging more.
    At the state level, sturgeon are raised in hatcheries and in captivity in hopes of re-populating the species.
    At the federal level, designating some Bay rivers — and  stretches of Atlantic coast all the way up to Maine — as Critical Habitat would give these ancient fish more protection.
    Miles of red tape are involved in achieving Critical Habitat designation, which then promises broad protection: “the use of, all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this Act are no longer necessary.”
    Finally, and with plenty of public comment time, sturgeon critical habitat protection has come to our national Congress.
    There, Maryland Congressman Andy Harris is prohibiting funding sturgeon Critical Habitat anywhere in the Chesapeake Bay watershed as “an unnecessary and burdensome regulation.”
    The House Appropriations Committee has adopted the amendment Harris calls — without explanation — “a victory for both the conservation of the Bay and the Eastern Shore’s economy.”
    There goes sturgeon Critical Habitat protection, killed by a congressman whose district, the First, surrounds the Chesapeake on Maryland’s eastern and northern sides and encompasses all of the Eastern Shore.
    We interviewed Harris when he first ran for Congress, back in 2010, and part of Anne Arundel County was in his district. Lately, he’s said he’s interested in hearing only from people in his remapped district. More lately still, he’s shied away from public meetings even with his voting public.
    So he’s unlikely to answer the question that logically flows from his amendment: Congressman, what have you got against sturgeon?

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com