- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The decline of new growth of aquatic vegetation — better known as SAVs (submersed aquatic vegetation) — in the Chesapeake Bay can easily be understood by enlightened recreational anglers. But despite their great importance, the presence of water grasses is cursed by some commercial crabbers and fish netters whenever the SAVs foul their gear. Even rockfish trollers occasionally gripe when a 3-ounce parachute bucktail is reeled in with 4 pounds of weeds on the hook.

Still, SAVs are the very lifeblood of all tidal estuaries. Crabs, minnows, spawning and resident rockfish as well as perch all depend on the filtering qualities of SAVs and the needed food and oxygen they help supply for those and other marine species.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources laments the loss of SAVs in 2006 throughout the bay’s tributaries. The largest declines occurred in the upper Chesapeake, including the Sassafras, Bush, Gunpowder, Honga, lower Choptank and lower Potomac rivers. These areas accounted for nearly 85 percent of the drop in SAVs.

Of concern also is a loss of some of the eel grass beds in Tangier Sound. The sound is home to most of the state’s eel grass. Along with such losses, water clarity declined in a number of areas.

But there’s also some good news. The Susquehanna Flats and the Northeast River are said to have the highest levels of SAVs since surveying began in 1984. Increases were also noted in the upper tidal Potomac River, Mattawoman Creek, Elk River and Fishing Bay.

Potomac River bass anglers currently aren’t upset if a favorite bass-hiding grass bed isn’t found where it was a year ago. They know nature plays a rugged game of give and take, removing a bed filled with hydrilla, milfoil or wild celery in one area only to have it reappear in another a year later.

Among serious recreational fishermen, one thing is absolutely certain: A river or creek section dotted with SAVs will also have the bass, perch, carp, gar and — lately — the northern snakehead fish that now are established from the Mattawoman Creek in Maryland to above Dogue Creek in Virginia.

Pro-Am fishing contest — The Rod ‘n Reel Captains Association in Chesapeake Beach invites the public to join its Pro-Am Fishing Tournament, May 4-6. It’s open to charter boats and private craft. A $7,000 cash award is offered for the biggest rockfish overall, and cash prizes will be awarded for the top 10 boats on each day of the contest. For additional information or to help with securing a charter boat, call 301/855-8450 or go to www.rodnreeltournament.com.

Decoy collectors meet — The East Coast Decoy Collectors’ 10th annual Buy-Sell-Swap meet will take place April 13-14, rain or shine, at the St. Michael’s Motor Inn (Best Western) on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The public is welcome. There’ll be sales, free appraisals, room-to-room decoy swaps and a cookout. Information: 410/745-3333. You can also call or e-mail John Clayton (410/745-2955, [email protected]) or Jim Trimble (703/768-7264, [email protected]).

Low count on ducks — After the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ annual mid-winter waterfowl survey, waterfowl biologists passed word there was a record-low count of 13,800 canvasback ducks, down from the 33,800 counted more than a year ago. Scaups were down as well, with only 25,700 counted — a sharp decrease from the 53,800 tallied well over a year ago. Mergansers were also way down.

The low counts of diving ducks might be blamed on warmer than usual, ice-free water in the Great Lakes region when our local surveys were made. The ducks simply might not have needed to head south at the time. Meanwhile, good news about the mallard, greenwinged teal, gadwall and black ducks. All four species saw increases.

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

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