- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Chesapeake Bay Program — a regional partnership that includes Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the District, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and various advisory groups — says the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay is not good despite some tiny success stories.

Despite valiant efforts to restore water quality, pollution continues to plague this great body of water. Large portions of bay water are so starved for oxygen that they will not support striped bass and shellfish populations.

You can imagine what happens when algal blooms, which are caused by large amounts of nutrients in the water, begin to develop. The algae prevents sunlight from reaching submersed vegetation that is vital to all aquatic life. Add sediment runoff from housing developments and farm fields and you can understand why the CBP says only one third of the Chesapeake’s water quality goals are being met.

Is it any wonder that a number of the bay’s fish and shellfish species are below historic levels?

On the good-news side, the American shad is undergoing a welcome recovery, returning to feeder creeks in increasing numbers. The striped bass (rockfish) is far above expected restoration goals, but too many of the fish continue to carry a disease known as micobacteriosis. It is baffling scientists, who are checking to see whether there’s a link between the illness and the bay’s environmental condition.

Meanwhile, will you enjoy success hooking large rockfish in the Chesapeake during the annual spawning period? Yes, you will catch them. It’s just that we don’t know what will happen to their offspring.

About that lake draw-down — Well more than a year ago, 250-acre St. Mary’s Lake, located along Route 5 south of Leonardtown, Md., was drained to seven feet below normal pool. Engineers wanted to begin assessing a seepage area on the backside of the dam and prepare for upcoming construction on the dam.

Apparently, little has been accomplished. Last week the Maryland DNR told us a “Subsurface Exploration, Geotechnical Evaluation & Seepage Analysis was conducted by KCI Technologies Inc. to investigate a potential leak on the downstream toe of the St. Mary’s Lake dam. This work included the drilling of soil borings, laboratory analysis of soil samples, soil permeability testing, cleaning and video inspection of the foundation drains, monitoring of observation wells and seepage modeling.”

The report has been forwarded to the Maryland Department of the Environment, which was expected to issue procedures on refilling the lake with specific monitoring conditions by the end of last week.

“Steps will be taken to address the monitoring requirements for the refilling of the lake to commence,” the DNR promised.

In other words, nothing seems to have been done, but sometime in the future the lake will be refilled.

Don’t you just marvel at how government functions?

Striper tags are worth $125 — This spring Maryland Fisheries Service biologists will release striped bass with special tags worth $125. The tags are dark green with white writing and contain instructions for anglers to remove the tag and call the Fisheries Service at 800/688-3467. Those who catch an undersized fish or are practicing catch-and-release can cut off the tag and release the fish.

Anglers are encouraged to record the capture date, location and disposition of the fish. The tag must be turned in to claim the reward. Data obtained from the tags help fisheries biologists learn about striped bass movements and survival in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic coast.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his fishing report Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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