Selected tags: Chesapeake Bay

Electronic Monitoring and Accountability in the Chesapeake Proves Effective

MD Blue Crab Design Team member and active EM pilot project participant, David Kirwin, uses a tablet to submit daily harvest reports from his boat Photo Credit: Ward Slacum

MD Blue Crab Design Team member and active EM pilot project participant, David Kirwin, uses a tablet to submit daily harvest reports from his boat
Photo Credit: Ward Slacum

Discussion about innovation, trends and shortfalls in fisheries monitoring tends to focus on large, off-shore fisheries in New England, Alaska and the Pacific.  Those regions are home to multi-species fisheries, with complex biological interactions, and are targeted by large boats that result in sizeable discards of “non-target” fish.  Monitoring technologies, both human and electronic, are essential to reduce this waste.  Smaller scale fisheries, however, have just as much need for improved electronic monitoring and accountability measures.

Not surprisingly, blue crab is the most valuable fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.  And it’s about as complex as they come.  More than 7,000 watermen deploy small boats from thousands of waterfront access points and are regulated by three different management jurisdictions, all of which use antiquated reporting systems.

As reported on this blog before, commercial crabbers in Maryland have tested mobile technologies, like smart phones and tablets, to report and verify daily harvest.  In 2012 and 2013, volunteers used these various technologies and provided constructive feedback to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to improve its monitoring and reporting system.  Overall, participants in the two-year pilot are pleased with mobile technology tools and the web-based reporting platform, which along with dockside spot checks, have improved reporting accuracy and timeliness, according to fisheries managers.  As part of the 2013 pilot, fisheries managers offered limited regulatory flexibility for pilot volunteers in order to encourage participation and demonstrate how improved accountability can lead to streamlined regulations.

In Virginia, crabbers are embracing electronic harvest accountability, thanks to participants in Maryland’s first pilot who traveled to Virginia to discuss their experiences and success. Since then, Virginia’s Blue Crab Industry Panel has partnered with Virginia Sea Grant, EDF and Virginia’s Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to alert Virginia watermen about how to utilize an existing web-based reporting platform. In only a few months, VMRC noted an increase in online-based reports from watermen.

Without the efforts of the commercial crabbing industry in both states, accountability improvements may not have been made.  Chesapeake watermen are proving that they are problem solvers by nature, are invested in their fishery and willing to adopt new measures to modernize harvest reporting.

As crabbers in both Maryland and Virginia demonstrate success with electronic monitoring and harvest accountability, there is little doubt that such measures will spread to other fisheries within the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding states.  And that’s good for watermen who save time and gain flexibility; fisheries managers who can make more informed and timely decisions; and scientists who receive more reliable data.

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Partnering with Maryland Watermen in Electronic Catch Accounting Pilot

While winter around the Chesapeake Bay is known for oysters and striped bass, summertime means blue crabs. If you enjoyed steamed crabs from Maryland this summer, you may have consumed crabs harvested by watermen involved in a ground-breaking test of technology to improve long-term blue crab management.

The Maryland Blue Crab Accountability Pilot program – a collaborative effort among commercial watermen called the Blue Crab Design Team, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and other partners – was designed to test electronic daily harvest reporting in order to gather more accurate and timely harvest information. From mid-July through the end of Maryland’s commercial crabbing season in mid-November, some 50 commercial crabbers, ranging in age from 25 – 75, tested the use of hand-held technologies like cell phones, smartphones and tablets, to report blue crab harvest daily.

Sustainable fisheries management requires sound science and accurate harvest and effort information. Current reporting relies on monthly paper reports and manual data entry that can take months to process. Daily electronic harvest reporting can improve the accuracy of harvest data, and result in real-time harvest information for in-season management decision-making. Read More »

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Maryland Waterman Turns Vision into Opportunity for Chesapeake Fishing Communities

Johnny Shockley, business partners and member of the Dorchester County, MD Chamber of Commerce.

The Chesapeake commercial fishing community is full of practical, hard-working businessmen and women who overcome weather, regulatory challenges, and market obstacles every day.  Some go even further to combine their grit and drive with innovation and vision to create a business that leverages the allure of Chesapeake seafood and new market opportunities.  Johnny Shockley, a career waterman from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, is doing just that.

Johnny began oystering with his dad and grandfather at the age of 12.  For the last 35 years, he has worked on the water making his living by harvesting the Chesapeake’s blue crabs, fish and oysters.  Recognizing the growing challenges to his industry and family heritage, Johnny realized that he needed to “think outside of the box” to create new business opportunities for his family.

After over three years of hard work and planning, Johnny and his business partner, Ricky Fitzugh, officially launched Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture, Inc., home of Chesapeake Gold Oysters.  Last year, Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture, Inc. bought 1 million oyster larvae, grew them to market size over the past 12 months and is now selling the seafood delicacy throughout the Washington, DC area.  This year, they expanded to four million more larvae. Read More »

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New Oyster Reef Yields Good Results in Chesapeake

Here’s something you don’t hear about every day: good news about the Chesapeake Bay.  The Washington Post is reporting that an artificial reef in a tributary is teeming with new life.  The reef is nothing more complex than a large pile of shells.  Historically reefs like that were so numerous they were a hazard for ships.  So many oysters lived in the Chesapeake that they filtered all the water in the bay every few days. 

The demise of the Chesapeake oyster came around the turn of the last century through a manic and violent harvest that reduced the population to just one percent of historic abundance in less than a century.  As many as 15 million oysters were harvested annually in the late 1800's, compared to 100,000 or less today.

Scores of people died in the mad pursuit of oysters.  Maryland was forced to establish the Oyster Police to protect its oystermen against their counterparts from Virginia.  Violent conflicts between watermen from the two states became so common that this era is now known as the Oyster Wars.

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