- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2007

If charter boat captain Norman Bartlett gets his wish, the custom of grinding baitfish into chum and ladling it overboard to attract larger gamefish will come to a halt.

The Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Presentation — a public interest law firm — has submitted a request for rulemaking on behalf of Bartlett. The charter fishing captain, who lives in Joppa, Md., is concerned that chumming is having negative impact on the Chesapeake Bay and he proposes changes to protect the bay and its natural resources.

Bartlett was smart to get Georgetown involved in this. For starters, the university’s law center wrote a thorough 16-page proposal that presents a condemning picture of chumming, which the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) might have to support.

For starters, no one argues that the Chesapeake Bay is Maryland’s biggest economic and environmental treasure, and no one disagrees that the bay is polluted.

The question then begs, is chum a pollutant? If it is, it can’t be discharged into the waters without a permit.

The petitioner, Bartlett, wants the MDE to issue a new rule that would prohibit chumming because the discharge of chum has an adverse impact on the water quality of the Chesapeake by reducing the levels of dissolved oxygen (DO) and causing increased turbidity.

By using the state’s own numbers, Bartlett has a good chance of at least being heard because in March 2004, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources recorded 13 record low readings of dissolved oxygen in various parts of the Chesapeake Bay. More low readings came in August 2005, causing officials to say that the bay showed the lowest DO readings in the past 12 years.

Bartlett wants the chumming stopped because chumming, he is sure, decreases available oxygen for the bay’s aquatic life, thus adversely affecting submersed vegetation, shellfish and finfish.

One things is certain, reduced oxygen levels definitely do not improve the water quality.

Bartlett and the university’s law center point out that 50 pounds of chum are commonly used by bay captains every day during the warm water season. The chum is believed to be effective in a 300-yard zone behind the boat, which shows it has limits. With that in mind, Bartlett says to maximize the fish-attracting powers of chum, many commercial operators use more than 50 pounds of the ground, fishy melange. Thus, if 100 boats are present in one general location as much a 2 tons of chum might be discharged in one particular location, such as the bay’s Middle Grounds, the Diamonds, south of the Bay Bridge, or the Chester River’s Love Point, to name a few.

I’ve never counted 100 chumming boats in any single spot, but I’ve seen as many as 30 — all of them dumping ladle after ladle of ground menhaden into the water while the fishermen cast baited hooks into the midst of the spreading chum slick.

The amount of chum used by some professional charter captains brings back memories of St. Mary’s County charter fishing captain Eddie Davis, who would promise to “set the water on fire” whenever he anchored somewhere between Point Lookout and the Southwest Middle Grounds, chumming for rockfish, bluefish, croakers and whatever else happened to wander into his chum line. His “set the water on fire” remark meant that he would dump so much chum that nearby competing captains wouldn’t have a chance. Davis’ chum was dense and heavy and the fish would flock to his boat, delighting his customers.

Does Bartlett have a chance getting the state to change the fishing laws that allow the use of chum? I kind of doubt it, but Bartlett’s idea to stop the chumming in the Chesapeake Bay isn’t new. He’s been at it for years.

Along the way, anyone against chumming will be up against an influential charter fishing trade that wants to preserve its current right to use chum, not to mention hundreds of chum-using private boaters. Then there are marina operators, such as Mike and Christy Henderson, who own Buzz’s Marina on St. Jerome’s Creek in St. Mary’s County. The Hendersons depend on selling chum. It’s a goodly part of their income. They certainly don’t want to see it reduced.

How do you feel about all this?

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

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