Volume 13, Issue 35 ~ September 1 - 7, 2005
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Burton on The Bay
By Bill Burton

Play It Again, Sam
But the same old tune’s a sad one: again this year, dead zones without enough dissolved oxygen to support aquatic life.

“I saw a lot of dead water this summer. Visibility in shallow water is everything in my style of fishing, and over the last few years the turbidity has gotten much worse,” Capt. Richie Gaines, President: Chesapeake Guides Association.

The above words ring familiar with this writer. I wrote them for this space in late November of ’03 and exactly as shown. Why rehash them?

Good question. But the answer is far from good. I was talking with Richie Gaines earlier this month at the 10th annual Tri-State Marine Owners Family Fishing Tournament, asking him his assessment of Bay water quality. He responded in the same words he did nearly two years ago when I first asked.

Play it again, Sam.

Same Old Tune
The environment of the Chesapeake is again up to its old tricks. Fishermen and crabbers are again airing gripes of dead zones without enough dissolved oxygen to support aquatic life.

On Nov. 24, 2003, in my second of two columns following that forum I wrote in this very same paper “Nutrient pollution is winning the big ongoing battle with the Chesapeake Bay. Problems become increasingly evident — and 2003 with all its rain and runoff was the worst year that just about anyone can recall.”

Change the 2003 to 2005, and it’s the same old story, word for word. When to hell, might I ask, are we going to make some headway in restoring the Bay?

When are we going to see to it that aquatic life of the Chesapeake has ample dissolved oxygen? When will the environment of rockfish be healthy enough that they no longer display red blemishes and sores (ulcerative dermatitus)? When will their their bodies be rid of the hard nodules of a bacterial strain often referred to as fish handlers disease? Mycobacteriosis can be more serious to both the fish and to fishermen with open cuts if they handle them.

This year, when we have already had one death attributed to fish handlers disease, the Bay could be experiencing the worst dead zone malady ever. Many Bay and tributary waters are unfit for us to swim in, yet the fish have to live in it. We only use the Bay; aquatic life has to survive in it.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Oysters and clams are going down the drain. There’s an obvious decline in menhaden as factory ships in Virginia continue to catch within newly implemented quotas based on the past five-year average that led to the menhaden problem in the first place. Are we to ignore that menhaden are the last-ditch natural cleansers of Bay waters via their filter feeding?

Pardon My Frustration
Pardon my frustration. No let’s face up to it. I’m feeling outrage, a slow but seething turmoil of impatience. The politicians, the bureaucrats, the bean counters, those who use the Bay for business and commerce, those who continue to build and otherwise develop on the shores of the Bay — all rape as they have in the past, if not moreso.

I’m an old man, fast approaching octogenarian age. Before heading to the great fishing grounds in the sky or the warmer waters in hell, I would like some assurance that things are turning around. I want to know that in her lifetime, my granddaughter Grumpy, also known as Mackenzie Noell Boughey, will one day be able to fish and swim in Chesapeake Bay. Is that asking too much?

Or am I supposed to be like so many others, go on living in the hope that things will change? Am I to believe all the talk that things will eventually get better — when right now most things are worse?

Life in the Bay is like life with us on land. The main ingredient of healthy life is oxygen in waters of the Chesapeake, as it is for us on its shores. It’s bad enough for us with industrial atmospheric pollution, but we still get enough oxygen — though the air that carries it isn’t always as healthy as it should be.

But earlier this month, we learned that oxygen-deprived dead zones have spread to cover 41 percent of the Chesapeake, the second worst since records have been kept over the past quarter of a century. As Will Baker, president of Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was quoted in the daily press as saying, “People ought to be outraged by the condition of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Amen. I’m outraged. Outraged and not just because the Bay is in the deplorable state it is, but because all I’ve heard is talk, promises, hollow assurances. I agree with what Baker added to his comments: “Our elected officials have got to start making the difficult decisions to reduce pollution, or we are going to end up with a natural treasure that doesn’t just have dead zones. It’s going to be dead, period.”

Almost half of our Bay is dead, and the zones spread during hot weather. Nutrients boost algae. Algae blooms then rot, which consumes oxygen — and there is less dissolved oxygen to support aquatic life. Simple as that. Yet what is being done — other than the same old talk, reassurances and promises?

Let’s not mince words. Dead zones, the status of oysters, clams, maybe crabs, fish disease, pollution, runoff, dredging, development and such: It’s all outrageous, especially when we know what must be done — and isn’t being done. Have you, as I, seen crabs crawl out of the water to get oxygen? That will make you angry, but anger won’t give them life-sustaining oxygen.

Let’s Get the Ball Rolling
Do me a favor; do the Bay a favor. By fax, e-mail. or snail-mail write me in care of this newspaper with your concerns about the Bay, with your thoughts about what has to be done, what sacrifices you’re willing to make, and many are needed. Don’t sit there depending on another reader as so many others do regarding facing up to the Bay’s woes.

As time allows. I’ll take your concerns to decision-makers and others, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll put enough plain citizen concerns and opinions to those who think we’re satisfied with their talk, reassurances and promises. Maybe we can get a ball rolling. May I hear from you?

Write to Bill Burton, c/o [email protected]; fax: 410-867-0307; Bay Weekly, 1202 West St., Suite 100, Annapolis, 21401.

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