Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Report: Water improves in Chesapeake Bay; fisheries drop

ANNAPOLIS — Water clarity in the Chesapeake Bay has improved and oysters and underwater grasses have made gains, but declines in blue crabs and rockfish have marred progress overall for the health of the nation’s largest estuary, a report released Monday said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s biennial State of the Bay report gave the bay a D-plus grade, unchanged from 2012.

Scientists at the foundation compile and examine historical and up-to-date information for 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat and fisheries. They then assign each indicator an index score between 1 and 100. The overall 2014 score is 32. The group says a score of 70 would represent a saved bay.

“We can celebrate the water-quality improvements. However, the bay and its rivers and streams still constitute a system dangerously out of balance,” CBF President William Baker wrote in the report. “We continue to have polluted water, risks to human health, and lost jobs — at huge societal costs.”

The bay’s blue crab population dropped dramatically to less than half its 2012 level — from 765 to 297 million.

“Most noteworthy, the number of adult female crabs (the spawning stock) dropped below the level considered depleted, forcing the states to cut back on catches to improve the chances of good reproduction,” the report said.

A new scientific assessment documents a 10-year decline in the rockfish, or striped bass, population since 2003. Catches will be cut back beginning this year in an effort to bring numbers up for the state fish of Maryland, the report said.

On the bright side, oysters continue to rebound.

“Roughly a billion oysters are now planted annually in the bay and its tributaries,” the report said. “Surveys show they are surviving better than they have in decades.”

The report focuses some attention on efforts states are making to fight pollution in the bay watershed. Neighboring states are relying heavily on reducing pollution from agriculture, but the report says while farmers are reducing pollution the region is not on track to meet its 2017 goals.

For example, the report said Pennsylvania faces substantial shortfalls in reducing polluted runoff from agriculture and urban areas.

“Nearly one quarter of our streams and rivers are listed as impaired, damaged by pollution,” said Harry Campbell, CBF’s Pennsylvania executive director. “That is unacceptable and puts our health and safety at risk. Polluted runoff from agriculture and urban/suburban areas are significant contributors to that damage.”

The report also said Virginia needs to speed up pollution reductions from agriculture, as well as urban and suburban runoff.

“While Virginia is currently on track to meet its short-term goals, there are growing concerns that Virginia will fall short of our goals for reducing pollution from farm operations, creating the need to secure less cost-effective reductions from other sources,” said Ann Jennings, CBF’s Virginia executive director.

Maryland should set more ambitious goals and increase efforts to plant trees in both agricultural and urban lands, the report said.