July 12, 2022

The news from the Chesapeake Bay … is very bad

By CAPT. ROB NEWBERRY Guest Commentary My Eastern Shore

After Adolf Hitler’s Nazi war machine invaded eastern France and launched what would officially be the start of World War II, Winston Churchill addressed the people of Britain. After decades of his largely ignored warnings about the impending war, Churchill said somberly “The news from France … is very bad.”

Today what can be said about water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and the Bay watershed is comparable. “The news from the Chesapeake Bay … is very bad.”

Recent reports confirm this very bad news even though the state is finally engaged in efforts to address decades of untreated Baltimore region sewage being dumped into the Bay watershed.

The Baltimore County Department of Health recently issued a water quality advisory for tidal Back River due to sampling indicating high levels of bacteria that could prove harmful with direct contact.

In the advisory, the health department encourages people to:

• Avoid direct contact with waterways for at least 48 hours after rainfalls.

• Watch for cloudy or discolored waters.

• Avoid exposing open cuts or bandaged wounds to the water.

• Avoid getting water in your nose and mouth.

• Always shower immediately after swimming and wash your hands thoroughly before eating.

Unfortunately, this advisory may have been too little too late for some. There are reports on a Baltimore area community Facebook page that two children were recently hospitalized with bacterial infections after suffering cut feet while swimming in Back River and at Hart-Miller Island.

Matapeake Beach in Queen Anne’s County was recently operating under a health warning against swimming due to high levels of bacteria found in a water sampling.

Last, but not least, Maryland has imposed new restrictions on the commercial and recreational crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay — including the first-ever limits on how many bushels of male blue crabs watermen and waterwomen can harvest.

The new and hopefully short-term restrictions follow release of an annual survey reporting the smallest number of male blue crabs since scientists began tracking their population in the 1990s.

While the exact causes to this reported decline are yet to be verified, one widely assumed cause is poor water quality and not necessarily overfishing by watermen and waterwomen.

Just like Churchill being largely ignored in the decades leading up to the invasion of France, the Delmarva Fisheries Association (DFA), the Clean Chesapeake Coalition and some environmental advocacy organizations (notably Blue Water Baltimore) have spent decades being largely ignored in their efforts to get government officials at all levels focused about the water quality issues in the Bay.

There has been a lot of talk, a lot of hand wringing and a lot of looking for someone somewhere to blame.

The blame game is a time-honored tradition in the world of politics where far too often success comes from claiming credit when things are going well and shifting blame to others when things are not going well.

There is no question a huge amount of the blame for poor water quality in the Bay is the result of some Baltimore region government officials not doing their job in making sure the Back River wastewater treatment plant and the Patapsco wastewater treatment plant were properly maintained and operating efficiently. That said, exclusively blaming these elected and appointed officials for this situation may be good politics but it is not good public policy.

Mike Miller, the late long serving president of the Maryland Senate, often talked about One Maryland. President Miller knew a healthy Chesapeake Bay is the responsibility of all Marylanders and it benefits all Marylanders.

It is time for local state and national officials (elected and appointed) to put their differences aside and do the right things for the Bay. A healthy Bay is not a Republican issue, a Democrat issue, a conservative issue, a liberal issue, a progressive issue, or a geographic issue. It is a One Maryland issue.

Now is the time to focus on doing the right thing before it is too late.

At the Delmarva Fisheries Association we are prepared to work with everyone who shares our commitment to the Bay, to sustainable wild fisheries harvesting from and preserving the way of life of our watermen and waterwomen.

The beginning of the end of World War II started with the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy in western France. Winston Churchill and other Allied leaders were able to tell Britain and the world “the news now from France … is very good.”

May we soon be able to tell our fellow Marylanders, fellow Americans and the world “the news now from the Chesapeake Bay … is very good.”


Capt. Rob Newberry is chairman of Delmarva Fisheries Association Inc., a trade organization based in Chestertown.

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