Chasing gulls chasing the Chesapeake Bay anchovy

Maryland scientists who each year grade the Chesapeake Bay’s health gave the nation’s largest estuary a C for 2015 – one of its highest scores over the last 30 years – and judging from my four-hour study the other morning the patient continues to improve.

I was aboard a recreational fishing boat in the Little Choptank River, near its mouth, not far from slow-sinking James Island. We chased flocks of birds feeding on schools of bay anchovy. The birds attacked from the sky, rockfish attacked from beneath. It was an amazing sight.

I concede that my slice of bay life was, in terms of time and space, pretty narrow, and based solely on observations. I leave the real research to experts at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. They’re the scientists best qualified to grade the bay. They found that water clarity and underwater grasses increased over the past year, while levels of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution fell — thus the C grade, up from perennial Ds for most of the years they’ve been watching the bay’s health.

Certainly over my time in the region, with my first fishing trip in the late 1970s, most of the news about the Chesapeake has been bad. Up and down, but mostly down.

So, this past year, when I started to hear about clarity improving, without a drought and lots of polluted runoff to explain it, I thought maybe things are really getting better. Prudent management — the regulatory responsibility of government informed by science  — ultimately can get us better outcomes, even as the region’s human population continues to grow.

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