The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay is now moving full steam ahead toward becoming the nation’s newest national marine sanctuary.
Almost five years ago, Maryland and Charles County nominated the unique area as a sanctuary. The title provides prestige and national recognition as well as federal technical and financial assistance for preservation, science, education and interpretation.
About 40 miles downstream on the Potomac from Washington, D.C., Mallows Bay is in part a salvage yard, home to the largest and most varied collection of shipwrecks in the western hemisphere. It is also an archeological treasury, holding resources dating back thousands of years. Ecologically as well it is valuable with largely undeveloped landscape and waterscape habitat for fish and wildlife, including rare, threatened and endangered species.
The sanctuary proposal ran into a shoal of opposition from commercial fishermen fearful of new federal regulations. It got free from the reefs of politics and bureaucracy only after Maryland’s congressional delegation urged Gov. Larry Hogan to find a way to resolve opposition from fishing interests.
Two agreements helped restart progress. First is a 10-year guarantee to fishermen. During that time, the designation can be revoked if harm to commercial or recreational fishing can be documented. Second is a reduction in sanctuary size from 52 square miles to 18.
“This continues our commitment to skilled stewardship and puts us on a path to make this national treasure a marine sanctuary this fall,” Hogan said.
Maryland’s U.S. senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Representative Steny Hoyer, whose district includes Mallows Bay, all applauded the agreement announced on May 31, saying that sanctuary status “will help protect Mallows Bay for future generations, spur tourism, and support local jobs and the economy.”
Comment is open until July 1 on environmental impacts and management. Then NOAA submits its decision to Congress. Unless new controversy develops, the designation is expected to be final by the end of 2019.