Dock of the Bay

Volume VI Number 4
January 29 - February 4, 1998


  • Pfiesteria Fights: The Bell Rings for Round Two
  • In Mid-Arundel, Players Take the Field
  • Way Downstream

  • Pfiesteria Fights: The Bell Rings for Round Two

    Environmentalists packed tight as menhaden in a legislative hearing room in Annapolis this week as JoAnn Burkholder was honored as Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Conservationist of the Year. Burkholder, a marine biologist at North Carolina State University, discovered Pfiesteria in 1991 and last summer identified the tiny dinoflagelate as the source of the toxins attacking fish - and fishermen - in first the Pocomoke and then other Chesapeake rivers.

    "We caught fish with a third of their sides just melted away," said Pocomoke River waterman Jack Howard, who joined Burkholder and three other speakers on a panel on Pfiesteria at the 1998 Environmental Legislative Summit.

    Howard reported first-hand knowledge of what Pfiesteria did to people, too: "cramps that double your knees up to your chin, nausea, diarrhea and burning eyes. You don't realize so much that your memory's going until after the event."

    The good news at the summit: this year's Chesapeake Bay pfiesteria problem has more than a name. Gov. Parris Glendening has introduced a bill to combat the plague rippling from Maryland's waters through its recreational and seafood industries.

    Glendening's plan attacks the problem from its source: the land-based chicken farms that proliferate throughout the Eastern Shore. It would take effect in stages. By the year 2000, farmers would have to develop nutrient management plans for the mountains of manure chickens produce in the two or three months before they go to market. By the year 2002, those plans would be enforced. Along the way, tax credits and assistance would help farmers comply.

    The governor's plan is not perfect. Chicken farmers, represented at the Environmental Summit by Carole Morison of Bird's Eye Farm, say they have already given their best efforts. Farmers "have used best management practices for 10 years," Morison said. "Family farmers are stewards of the land. We know our livelihood depends on being caretakers."

    While setting standards for farmers, Glendening's plan omits the poultry giants, companies like Perdue, which contracts with Morison to raise 584,000 chickens a year. The problem, Morison says, is that the poultry industry is "pushing responsibility for its industrial waste" onto small farmers like herself who have neither the means nor ability to cope with a problem of such a vast scope.

    Environmentalists at the Summit agreed, and Montgomery Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. promised a bill to address the industry's responsibility.

    Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Conservationist of the Year praised Maryland's initiatives, encouraging "all to be doing whatever we can."

    Minutes later, she delivered the bad news: look for Pfiesteria again this year.

    "Given what we know and the right conditions, Pfiesteria is likely to come back, sickening people and with fish kills," Burkholder said. "As we've seen in North Carolina since 1991, where it's come once, it comes back."

    With welcome clarity and a few nice metaphors, the scientist explained why.

    As likely to be present in some Chesapeake waters next year as last year are what she called the "several major ingredients" Pfiesteria needs to become a killer:

    1. Fish. Lots of them, preferably oily ones that school up, like menhaden.

    2. Poorly flushed waters where fish and toxins mix.

    Pfiesteria, Burkholder explained, "are benign little organisms normally. But with very fresh fish excrement in high levels, Pfiesteria begins to make toxins that first strip skin from fish, then narcotize and finally kill."

    3. Nutrient enrichment, which Burkholder called a "nice background environment for fish kills."

    Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, she explained, stimulate algae, on which Pfiesteria feeds. When oily fish like menhaden collect in still, plankton-rich waters, well-fed Pfiesteria are waiting for them, and the toxic cycle begins.

    Pretty soon, it's not only menhaden but other fishes as well. "Once toxins are in the water most of the other finfish are in danger," Burkholder reported. "In North Carolina, all the other finfish die, and so do blue crabs and clams and [more slowly] young oysters."

    In other words, in this fight, it's time to pull on the gloves.


    In Mid-Arundel, Players Take the Field

    Armchair quarterbacks made all the right moves over the last couple of years, when Anne Arundel's game of long-range county planning was played by the pros. Now throughout mid-county, citizen planners have taken the field.

    Players were named to Small Area Planning Committees for Annapolis Neck, Broadneck, Crofton, Edgewater/Mayo and Severna Park this week. Fifteen members and three alternates from each of those five regions join the week-old Crownsville Small Area Planning Committee in deciding the future of their communities. Planning for the rest of the county will continue over the next two years, as citizens apply and are chosen to join 10 more community committees.

    Selections were made by County Executive John Gary, with the advice of civic leaders, county council members and, in Annapolis City, Mayor Dean Johnson.

    Here's who's taken to the field:


    Annapolis Neck

    Chosen from 48 applicants were-



    Chosen from 39 applicants were-


    Chosen from 34 applicants were-



    Chosen from 24 applicants were-

    Severna Park

    Chosen from 43 applicants were-

    Work starts with a get-acquainted dinner Feb. 5 at Anne Arundel Community College. The committees' first training sessions are set for mid February.

    Now the rest of us get to be armchair quarterbacks, overlooking how this whole new ball game is played. We'll be able to sit in on meetings after locations are decided next month, and group members are supposed to be reaching out to all of us.

    To make that give and take work, the county is planning public forums in each area in late spring, plus surveys and focus groups. "Our intention is to keep people involved," said county spokesman John Morris.


    Way Downstream

    In Ohio, you might understand in these times why Republican state Rep. Jim Buchy is being called a dirty politician. But Buchy is innocent: he merely is crusading to name an official state soil. Remarked a frustrated ally: "Soil is treated like common dirt!"

    In Florida, we reported recently on a fishing boat that ran aground in the Florida keys destroying priceless coral. Now we get news that a 47-foot sailboat has had a similar accident off Key Largo, destroying one of the remaining stands of old-growth elkhorn coral

    Florida has another problem, too: wild pigs. The Miami Herald reported last week that park officials are hiring contractors to reduce the population of wild pigs, which are destroying native plants and animals. As many as one million of the pigs may be running wild

    Our Creature Feature comes to us from Australia, where a very peculiar event is taking place this weekend in the southern seacoast town of Port Lincoln. It's called Tunarama and it's more than a fish fry.

    Aussies from across the continent are expected to enter a competition that consists of heaving frozen tunas as far as possible. The event is generally regarded as harmless - but some wonder why they'd sponsor such a festival while Australia is pushing Japan to do a better job of conserving tuna.

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