- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007


The debate about using ground menhaden — better known as chum — to attract rockfish, blues or croakers will not stop. Norman Bartlett, who spends most of his fishing time in the upper Chesapeake Bay, says chum pollutes the water and robs it of much-needed oxygen. That’s in the upper Chesapeake Bay.

Christy and Michael Henderson disagree with Bartlett’s claims. Two years ago, the Hendersons bought Buzz’s Marina along St. Jerome’s Creek in St. Mary’s County, which is a lot closer to Virginia’s Northern Neck than it is to Annapolis or Baltimore. Their marina is a popular meeting spot for anglers who know that the St. Mary’s County parts of the Chesapeake deliver some of the best fish-producing waters along the entire eastern United States.

The Hendersons cater to every type of fisherman. They like the light tackle crowd, the heavy-duty trollers and most definitely the chummers because Buzz’s Marina sells fresh menhaden chum during the warm season. However, I was astonished with what the Hendersons said when asked how their cash register would be affected if the time-honored practice of chumming in the bay were outlawed. For starters, they want to see if Bartlett’s claims actually are supported by extensive tests and solid scientific evidence. Thus far, they haven’t been.

“During the season we sell around $1,500 worth of chum every month,” Christy Henderson said. “Mike grinds it up and if we need to, we have four commercial grinders to do the job, although normally we use only one.”

However, the Hendersons say even without Bartlett’s charges that chum does great harm to the bay’s ecology, they can see the day coming when very few people will use chum.

“Different methods of fishing are evolving,” Mike Henderson said. “More and more of our customers are beginning to use light tackle and various types of lures, such as jigs, to catch their fish.”

However, the couple whose financial future depends on far more than sales of chum wonders about their recent agreement to join the Maryland Clean Marina Initiative and some of the official language that came along with being an official Clean Marina.

“If chum pollutes the water,” Mike Henderson said, “why would the Clean Marina handbook ask that we not dump fish scraps and fish carcasses in the waters of our marina, but instead should take them out to deep water and drop it there? Wouldn’t that pollute the water, too?”

The Hendersons believe that farm fertilizer runoff, as well as industrial and municipal wastes that enter the Chesapeake Bay, are far more harmful than ground fish chum. To help the local waters, the owners of Buzz’s Marina have stopped using fertilizers on the lawns of their 80-acre grounds. They also are installing wash-down pads with sediment basins to keep harmful substances ashore, not in the water, and soon will have a pump-out station for “head” waste aboard customers’ boats.

Meanwhile, no matter what happens about demands that the chumming should come to a halt, Christy Henderson said, “I’d like to have the option of using chum because it helps catch fish a lot quicker. That’s important when children want to fish and enjoy some success.”

Her husband smiled and said, “We sell chum, but we would never ask people to stop using artificial lures. Heck, we also sell bucktails and other lures. If the chumming stops, we won’t go out of business. What hurts the marina business is government bureaucracy, such as the permit process. Try to get a permit for a new dock, boat slips or a boat ramp and you might as well sit back and wait. It will be a long time before permits are approved. That hurts us.”

And all along I thought that sales of chum kept the Hendersons afloat. I was wrong.

c 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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