In Maryland waters of the Chesapeake sturgeon and shad are gone. Clams are virtually gone. Most of the few remaining oysters have been “seeded” by the state or by watermen. The perceived viability of crabs varies with natural cycles and conservation measures. The success of the rockfish moratorium, which engendered a false sense that any species can be brought back from the brink, is now threatened by the over-fishing of menhaden.
These setbacks affect the livelihood of watermen and the quality of life of everyone.
Most watermen agree that the causes for the decline of any species are complex and usually include fishing pressure and declining water quality. Many also agree that it is essential that we make significant improvements to water quality.
Year after year organized watermen have demonstrated their considerable political power by challenging efforts to reduce harvests of threaten species. Last year they defeated a proposed moratorium on oyster harvesting. This year they defeated a ban on shark finning. The April Waterman’s Gazette reports that over one hundred watermen turned out in opposition to a proposed ban on gill nets.
This year the most comprehensive package of clean water legislation seen in decades was passed in the final minutes of the General Assembly session. The package included reductions in pollution from septics, waste water treatment plants and contaminated storm water runoff. Thousands of people and dozens of organizations worked tirelessly to accomplish this result. As far as I could tell, no waterman’s organization participated in the effort.
There is much that remains to be done. Organized watermen need to be a part of that effort. Riverkeepers throughout Maryland will be involved in local implementation of the new laws and in efforts to get tougher limits on pollution from agriculture. We invite all watermen and their state and local organizations to join us.