Baltimore Waterfront

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What a change a century has seen. One hundred years ago the waterfront all around Baltimore harbor was all industrial and commercial. There is still some of that but now there are office buildings, condos, marinas, restaurants and more. Large companies and small have helped shape the change.

One example is Baltimore Railings & Stairs who does metal fabrication. They built a metal roofed patio cover for a swimming pool next to the water. They have also created glass and metal entranceways for restaurants and a variety of railings and stairs for condos around the waterfront. This is just  one example of many of a variety of companies changing the face of Baltimore. Continue reading “Baltimore Waterfront” »

Annapolis Sailing & Party Capital

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Annapolis is known as the sailing capital of the US or at least one of the best places for sailors anyway. And we all know sailors like to party. We were invited to a party at the Annapolis Yacht Club so we rented a limousine for the occasion.

What a limousine. Have you rented one recently? Wow have they changed. Sure they still have the very staid Lincoln town cars but some are just incredible. Some of the party buses are even more amazing. We had a Hummer that had flat screen TVs, amazing color coordinated interior with a wild LED lighting scheme. Then of course there was the bar area. We must admit we did get the party started a bit before we got to the party. Heck, we could have just stayed and partied in the limo. Continue reading “Annapolis Sailing & Party Capital” »

Clean Clubhouse

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We belong to a boat club in the Annapolis area. We just got a new cleaning company because of our new Vice Commodore. They are great, Annapolis Clean Carpet  (http://www.annapoliscleancarpet.com/). And this was just one of several things. Here is how it happened.

Our club is a fun place, and it is nice to hang around there and relax sometimes before or after going out on the boat. We recently got a new Vice Commodore who has been doing a bang up job. To a large extent it is the luck of the draw. All the board positions are volunteer. No one is paid. So we have had some bad ones who don’t do anything, but this time we lucked out and have a great one. Continue reading “Clean Clubhouse” »

Supreme Court Supports Chesapeake

The Supreme Court by deciding to do nothing has helped the Chesapeake Bay. What was at stake was a cleanup program designed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Challenge from Afar

Locally, most people seemed to be aboard for the plan. However, there were challengers from other parts of the United States including the American Farm Bureau Federation (a group that doesn’t believe in climate change).

They challenged the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, saying that the federal government shouldn’t have a role and that it should be solely up to the states in the Chesapeake watershed.

Why is a Cleanup Important?

The activities of man has had a dramatic impact on the Chesapeake. Many species survive at only a small fraction of their original abundance. The number of oysters in the Bay is at 1% of historic levels. All the water in the bay used to be filtered every day or two by all the oysters. The water used to be crystal clear. Since the 1950s it has been murky. There is too much sediment and pollution in the water. Sediment from runoff across the entire watershed, pollution from multiple sources including runoff, factories, farms and waste treatment plants, and nutrient runoff from farms causing algal blooms that cloud the water and suck the oxygen out of the water creating dead zones where nothing can live.

Lower Court Ruling Stands

In 2013, Judge Sylvia Rambo of the US District Court ruled that the Clean Water Act allows the EPA to work with the six states in the watershed. In her decision, she pointed to the economic and ecologic importance of the Bay. The amount harvested from the Bay is way down because of over-harvesting and pollution. But, the Bay is the largest estuary system in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The judge liked the “holistic watershed approach” that the plan uses. Plus she said that there was support for the cleanup agreement in the Clean Water Act legislation and its legislative history as well as support from prior Supreme Court precedent.

Why the Farm Bureau Federation Fought the Legislation

A lot of pollution comes from excess fertilizer runoff from farm land as well as runoff from manure from factory farms. In the case of the Chesapeake, chicken farms on the Eastern Shore, but also from cows. A question is whether the EPA will use the win from this case with the Chesapeake to organize cleanups of other waterways across the US.

Groups that were critical of the opposition by the American Farm Bureau Federation said that they had shown little if any interest in the Chesapeake before they filled the suit in 2011. These groups, probably correctly, said that the only reason the suit was filed was to try to keep the EPA from regulating pollution of the Mississippi River caused by runoff from mega-farms. These mega-farms are who the Federation represents and prior to this they had only focused on the Mid-West and not the Chesapeake.

Republicans Against the Environment

So not only did the American Farm Bureau Federation try to fight the cleanup agreement, but also the attorneys general in 21 states, mostly Republican, joined in the fight. These were states no where close to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including places like Montana and Alaska. This was not appreciated by the states in the watershed who had come to the agreement with the EPA.

Besides the attorneys general, home builders and chemical and fertilizer companies also tried to fight the agreement.

Farmers are worried about the expense of having to put up barriers to prevent runoff of fertilizer and manure during rain storms. Municipalities will also have to spend millions to upgrade their sewer systems so human waste doesn’t flow into the Bay and its tributaries during storms. But, the end result should be a much healthier Bay.

 

Erosion Controls Hurt the Bay

Erosion control is a good idea, right? Maybe not. “Hardened” water fronts may hurt the Bay. This includes rip rap and bulkheading and is perfectly legal. Landowners are not breaking the law by doing this (assuming they have a permit), but more and more are doing this and it is having a cumulative impact. It keeps the water cleaner and reduces erosion, so why is it so bad?

Specialized Environment

The shoreline is a special environment. These new structures are reducing the places where terrapins, crabs and fish can find food and shelter. It can even help the increase in sea nettles (stinging nettles) and aid in the spread of an invasive species of marsh grass.

That We are Rapidly Changing

In several rivers near Baltimore, 50% or more of the shoreline has been modified. A study was done looking at 50 places around the Bay to compare and see how changes to shorelines affect the estuaries.

There also seems to be an effect on submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) or what some people call seaweed. They are important because geese and ducks feed on them. Also, crabs and fish hide in them. This is particularly important for crabs that are sloughing and becoming soft shell crabs temporarily.

The SAVs are beginning to come back but the study seems to indicate the SAVs are smaller and less dense in front of hardened shoreline. This is probably because waves reflect off the hard walls and the extra turbulence can uproot or make conditions more difficult for the underwater grasses.

Also, there tends to be more nutrient runoff where there are hardened shorelines because these then to be put where there are lawns or fields vs. natural landscapes.

More Sea Nettles – Yuck!

The hard surfaces give more places for sea nettle larvae to settle which increases the sea nettle population. It also makes it harder for wetlands to establish themselves and increases the chances of the invasive grass, phragmites, invading.

When Grass is Bad

Phragmites likes disturbed soil and loves nutrients. So when the shoreline is altered by hardening it, it disturbs the soil and as said earlier, these locations tend to have high nutrient runoff. Just what phragmites loves. It can grow so thickly that it crowds out all native vegetation and is generally not as good a habitat for native animals as native plants are.

Since 2008 people have been required to put in living shorelines instead of hardened shorelines. Unfortunately, the study didn’t look at these closely enough to draw any conclusions.

The study authors think that when future shoreline projects are evaluated for permits in the future that they should not be looked at independently but how the fit into the bigger picture on each river / estuary.

Rebound of Several Sport Fish

Several sport fish have bounced back with management. Often sport and commercial fisherman fought the restrictions of the management plan but are glad now that the populations have rebounded.

Redfish

Redfish (red drum) are very popular in the south and on the gulf coast and actually all the way up to Maine. It was overfished and the population had crashed. Texas declared it a sport fish which stopped commercial fishing and put controls on limits by sport fishermen. Other states put on restrictions as well. Redfish is popular because it is in many places, is good eating and will go after a range of baits and lures, and it puts up a good fight. The population has been making a come back since the restrictions were put in place.

Rockfish / Stripped Bass

Perhaps the most popular sport fish on the East Coast. It is generally called striped bass but is known as rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay. It had been almost wiped out by sport and commercial fisherman. It has been an important fish for a long time. In 1639 one of the first ever environmental laws was passed. Massachusetts declared it illegal to use striped bass for fertilizer.

Because striped bass’ territory covers at least 12 states, regulation would be difficult so the federal government stepped in with some oversight. The law had teeth because if a state didn’t come up with an acceptable plan to protect rockfish, the government could ban all fishing for striped bass in that state.

In Maryland and Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay is the spawning ground for 80-90% of all striped bass on the East Coast. In 1985, the Maryland governor banned all sport and commercial fishing of rockfish in Maryland. A number of other states follow and the ban lasted several years. The fish started to bounce back and a few years back was considered completely restored to historical levels. But in the last few years, the population  has dropped some and fishermen have been asked to observe  a voluntary fishing limit of one fish per day in a certain size range and none in a smaller size range. It is hoped this gives the 2011 juveniles a chance to get to be breeding stock.

Muskies

A top predator on the great lakes, the muskie was almost wiped out by the topmost predator of all, man. Over the last 30 years, 5 clubs of anglers have helped bring the muskie back. Each club has a large pond that they fill int the spring. Then food gets tossed in to accelerate algae growth. Then zooplankton start growing and feeding on the algae. At this point, the DNR brings along newly hatched muskie which feed on the zooplankton. More food is dumped in on a weekly basis to sustain the growth of the algae and the zooplankton. The DNR keeps track of their growth and once they reach a certain size it is time to release them. They need to be released because at this size they switch to being carnivores and would start cannibalizing each other.  So the ponds are slowly drained and when it is low enough the small muskie are collected and transported to the lake. There are now self sustaining populations in the Great Lakes and rather than continuing to stock those, most of the newly raised muskie are taken to smaller lakes to help those populations bounce back.

So these and others, such as steelhead trout in some areas show that conservation efforts can make a difference.

Chesapeake Bay Grasses

Yeah, time to celebrate! Chesapeake Bay grass beds expanded by 27% in the last year. Then again, maybe not as we will see. The grass beds had been expanding until 2011 when two storms, Irene and Lee devastated the beds.

The increase in the last year has brought the grass beds back to 76,000 acres, nearly where they were before 2011. But it is still less than half the 185,000 acre goal targeted by the restoration effort. The effort is one part of a larger effort to bring back the health of the Bay. Even so, the target is still far less than the historic area covered by grass beds and subaquatic vegetation (SAV).

Why should you Care about Grasses in the Bay?

They are also known as seaweed. If you like oysters and crabs and rockfish, you should care about the grass beds. They provide sanctuary and breeding grounds for crabs and fish. They are also a safe place for crabs to molt when they are most vulnerable.

Helping Clean the Water

The grasses also filter nutrients out of the water and help keep the water clear. They need sunlight just like plants on land, so they grow better if the water is clear. Beds of seaweed have an amazing damping effect on waves and can greatly decrease shore erosion as well which will also help clear the water. Plus, they absorb nutrients which helps prevent algae blooms which are caused by excess nutrients.

There could also be a synergistic effect between grasses and oysters. Oysters are filter feeders and also help clear the water and also do better in clear water.  If we can succeed in getting both the oysters and the grasses to thrive, we might once again have clear waters in the Chesapeake like it was before the 1950s.

If there is too much sediment in the water, such as after a storm, the sediment not only shades out light, it can settle on the grasses’ leaves and further block the sunlight. Algae blooms also block the light getting to the plants.

Temperature has an affect as well. Hot summers in 2005 and 2010 killed a lot of eel grass int the southern part of the Bay. They bounced back somewhat this past year as well. The hope is that the summer won’t be too hot and the eel grass will continue to recover.

Short Term or Long Term Gain?

The big worry is that this gain may be ephemeral. In the past, grass beds have been a mix of species. If conditions weren’t good for one species, the others would fill in.

The large gains in the last year are worrisome because it is almost entirely due to widgeon grass. This particular grass can disappear as rapidly as it appears. So, if the conditions change and the widgeon grass dies back, all of this last year’s gains could be lost.

Floating Wetlands

Baltimore Harbor’s Floating Wetlands

If you have sailed or powered into Baltimore Harbor or been walking along the waterfront, you might have noticed small islands floating along the shore line. Some are in front of the World Trade Center and others next to the National Aquarium. More have been proposed and are awaiting approval.

The waterfront looks very different than it did two hundred years ago. Now it is all pilings and concrete and a very artificial man-made environment. Back then, there would have been tidal wetlands lining most of what is now the inner harbor, as well as the outer harbor which is now docks for freighters and other large ships. In fact now, it is almost impossible to tell that it is part of an ecosystem and part of a river. It looks more like a dirty Disneyland.

To try and replace some of the ecosystem effects of a tidal wetland, these floating platforms have been built. They are built with buoyant materials so the weight of the growing plants won’t sink them. They are planted with different wetland grasses including saltmeadow hay, saltmarsh cordgrass and marsh hibiscus.

A number of different companies make these floating islands. The one by the aquarium is made by Biohaven Floating Islands and is 200 square feet which sounds large but is only 10 x 20 feet. Others were designed by Biohabitats and students at the Living Classroom Foundation helped to build them.

Benefits

Despite their relatively small size considering the large quantity of tidal wetlands that have been lost due to development, they provide habitat enhancement and some improvements to water quality. A number of animals have been seen in, on and around the islands including otters, eels, blue and night herons as well as ducks. Insects and birds  perch on and hide in and generally use the plants for habitat.

Not only do grasses grow on the top but barnacles, mussels, and a variety of other plants and animals grow on the underwater portion. Also, the roots of the plants that stick down into the water and the island itself provide by shelter and shade for fish, crabs and other creatures. The general scientific term is nekton which is any marine organism which can move and includes everything from the microscopic to whales. (Obviously the islands are not going to attract whales.)

The barnacles and mussels are filter feeders and help clean the waters. The roots of the plants also absorb nutrients and remove them from the water. This includes heavy metals although due to the  size of the islands and the fact that is an open system it doesn’t have as much impact as if it was a closed system.

There are plans to add more of these islands but the best way to clean up the river is to control runoff at its source. Most of the trash and pollution in the river come from runoff. Despite the islands small ecological impact, they are very important as an educational tool. They are in very public places and help people realize that what they do on land has an impact on the water.

 

Maryland Bait

What natural baits are people using in Maryland? It depends on whether you are fishing in fresh or salt water and what species of fish you are going after.

Freshwater

Worms are a prime choice for almost all fish, both fresh and salt water. You can buy them at a bait shop or a tackle shop. Or, you can just go out in your back yard. You should find plenty in a few shovels of dirt. Especially for smaller worms, pierce the hook through the side of their body in several places so they make kind of an S shape on the hook. You need a different strategy for bait stealing fish like sunfish. Take the worm and run it up the hook like you pull a sock up over your foot and leg. That way the hook is completely covered and it makes it very tough for the fish to steal the bait.

Leeches make great bait for most types of fish. They have a sucker and that is what you should put the hook through.

Insects – Grasshoppers and crickets make great bait but you can use almost any kind of water or land insect. Vary the size of the hook you use based on the size of the insect.

Minnows – Another great bait. Keep them in a bucket in the shade with cool water. Don’t crowd them or them or they will die. They will use up the oxygen in the water too quickly. Or you could replace the water periodically although this doesn’t tend to work as well. There are a variety of ways to hook a minnow including through the tail, the back, behind the head or the lips. If you do the lips, put the hook through the bottom lip first.

Saltwater

Minnows – Same as above

Worms – Similar to above for freshwater except that people tend to use sea worms instead of earth worms. Primarily the polychaetes known as blood worms.

Shellfish – Mollusks – Clams and mussels are very good for rockfish, drum, sea trout and perch. Naturally, take all the shell of and thread them on the hook. Worms are good for the fish mentioned as well.

Shellfish – Crustaceans – Shrimp – Put the hook through the tail or either live or dead shrimp. Another choice is to cut them up and skewer the pieces on the hook. Peel the shell if you do this.

Crabs

Many people think chicken necks are the best bait for crabs. But for years the watermen have used salted eel on their trot lines. This was important because the eel was smooth and didn’t get tangled the way chicken necks would. But so many people have switched to crab traps or pots instead of trot lines that this doesn’t matter as much any more. Probably good for the eel who are being overfished.

Joys of Sailing

Yes, you would get there faster on a power boat. But there is something special about a sailboat. It is as if you are going back in time or communing with nature. It is hard to explain unless you have done it.

Having grown up sailing it is just part of you. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do for a first time. I can remember taking some friends out when I was a lot younger. I had them try steering the boat. When I told them to have the boat move closer to the wind they just looked at me in such a puzzled way. “Where is the wind coming from?” I was stunned. Growing up sailing, you just know. It is such second nature it never even occurred to me that someone wouldn’t know where the wind is coming from.

So how do you know? You tell by the direction of the waves, the feel of the wind on your face, by what the sails are doing and probably other things I am not even aware of.

It is so magical when you get out and put up the sails and turn off the engine and it is just quiet except for hearing the wind in the sails and the slap of the waves at the side of the boat.

There is also the feel and the skill. Sailboats are designed to go through waves and they have a gentle rocking motion unlike the pounding you get with a power boat. Although there are times in rough weather where you can really pound into the waves in a sailboat and it isn’t much fun. But the motion is normally very relaxing. (This isn’t quite as true of racing because you are paying attention to every little detail trying to get the boat to go as fast as possible.)

Day sailing is great, but it is a whole other experience to go out for the weekend and anchor out and spend the night. Sometimes by yourself or sometimes with friends on their boats and you tie up (raft up) together and share hors d’oeuvres and drinks together.

You know all those grand mansions with the great water view with the long driveways? The ones you are curious about but can’t see from the road? Well, because they have water views, boats have great views of them. So whether you are staying in a creek or river with great views of magnificent homes, or a secluded creek  surrounded by corn fields or perhaps dense trees overhanging the water, it is so idyllic and peaceful.

Even if you go out for a sale for an evening in the middle of the week, it is so relaxing. You immediately leave the stress of work behind.