We all know that the health of the Chesapeake Bay is not as good as it could be. However, the recent State of the Bay Report gave it a D-. While that doesn’t sound great, the Bay actually saw improvement in a number of important areas with most of the decline being in a single area.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently released its State of the Bay report for 2020 and the verdict doesn’t look good at first glance. The overall health of the Bay declined a single point from 2018, receiving a D-.
For this report, the health of the Bay is tracked in several different areas; pollution, habitat, and fisheries. Within each of these are several categories. Monitored within pollution are nitrogen, phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and toxics. Within the habitat category are, forested buffers, wetlands, underwater grasses, and resource lands. Within fisheries are rockfish, oysters, blue crabs, and shad. These are just a few things that could be monitored in each category and the grade might be different if we monitored other things, such as the Menhaden fishery, total suspended solids, or oyster reefs.
Under pollution, every single category either improved or stayed the same; there was not a single decline. While some of this may be attributed to the lifestyle changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the major reason for this is the lower amount of precipitation received in 2020. Most pollution comes from the land and when it rains, the rainwater washes this pollution into nearby waterways. So while this meant better water quality in 2020, this improvement is not likely to last. This is where we, as residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, can help with continued improvement. Reducing our use of fertilizers, making sure our waste water is properly treated before it enters waterways, and supporting state and federal funding for programs that help agricultural businesses manage their own waste products are all ways we can help improve water quality in the Bay.
In habitat, we saw small declines in forested buffers and underwater grasses. We will likely see continued declines in forested buffers as the population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed increases. All these people need places to live, which means development and the removal of natural landscapes to make room for buildings and roads. In order to combat this, we need to prioritize conserving some areas, keeping the landscape as natural as possible, especially along waterways. Underwater grasses, on the other hand, are a lot harder for us to actively conserve. The abundance of underwater grasses is highly variable from year to year, but working to keep the waters of the Chesapeake Bay clean can help.
Fisheries is the area where we saw the largest declines. While blue crabs and oysters increased slightly in 2020, shad saw a slight decline and the rockfish fishery saw huge declines. These declines are due to lower than average rockfish spawning activity for the last two years and reduced food stock (such as Menhaden). While adjustments are being made, such as reducing Menhaden harvest as well as reducing rockfish harvest and season length, it may take some time before we see improvements based on these changes. This happens to be one of the major issues with fisheries management; it takes time to collect data on a fishery, determine that it is declining, make adjustments to protect the fishery, and then actually implement those changes.