40 Years of Science and Resource Management
Research on a crab boat. Photograph, Michael W. Fincham

MARYLAND SEA GRANT HAS LONG SUPPORTED both fundamental and applied research — studies on basic ecosystem processes, for one example, or tests of fishery forecast models for another. But our underlying assumption is that both forms of research eventually pay off with practical results as a deeper understanding of the ecosystem can drive more precise and appropriate decision making about resource management issues. A few highlights from our history:

Promoting ecosystem-based fisheries management

Our program led efforts to develop a scientific framework for ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) in the Chesapeake Bay, an alternative to managing fish and shellfish species individually, as though harvests of one do not affect the other. The framework recognizes the complex interactions of the food web and provides guidance for maximizing harvests of blue crabs, striped bass, Atlantic menhaden, oysters, and other species without undercutting the ecological role each species plays in the estuary’s ecosystem. To examine the benefits of this approach, Sea Grant commissioned fisheries scientist Edward Houde to write Managing the Chesapeake’s Fisheries, a book that assesses the state of key Bay species and evaluates the prospects for shifting from single-species to multi-species management.

Supporting research on Bay “dead zones”

Maryland Sea Grant has supported extensive research efforts to detail how nutrients, sediments, and waterflow lead to areas of oxygen depletion (hypoxia) in bottom waters and, during the summer, to the complete absence of oxygen (anoxia). Such regions cannot support fish and plant life. The results of this research are summarized in Maryland Sea Grant's Oxygen Dynamics in Chesapeake Bay: A Synthesis of Recent Research, an oft-cited book edited by David R. Smith, Merrill Leffler, and Gail Mackiernan. A follow-up scientific consensus, Dissolved Oxygen in the Chesapeake Bay, presented a plain-language explanation of this complex issue.

Underwater grasses and water quality

The widespread disappearance of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) that began more than 50 years ago has been, in part, a response to declining water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay system. Maryland Sea Grant support of research on the causes of SAV loss over many years has been key in determining the role of nutrient overloading and the cascade of negative impacts. Studies of the recent resurgence of grasses in the Susquehanna Flats have begun to reveal how the interactions of seasonal waterflow and climatic factors affect the resilience of grass beds, and how the beds themselves, through feedback loops, influence their own survival. The implications of these findings offer a more nuanced understanding of what is involved in programs to restore submerged grasses.

New prospects for controlling Phragmites invasions of tidal marshes

A common reed, Phragmites australis, a non-native species, has been spreading in wetlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay and in other regions of the nation. In an extensive field study, Maryland Sea Grant-supported scientists found that high levels of nitrogen and carbon dioxide in Bay marshes promote increased rates of Phragmites invasion, which can displace native plants and, in turn, negatively affect species, for example, mummichog that are a prey for commercially important fish. Findings suggest that management practices to limit nitrogen and/or carbon dioxide could curtail future invasions.

40th Anniversary Issue
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A decade ago, Donald Webster could count the number of oyster farms in the state of Maryland on two hands. By Rona Kobell.
From the Water to Washington: Connecting Experiences in DC and Coastal Communities
In graduate school, I found it easy to find the impact and context of my fisheries research. By Gray Redding .
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