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Scientists To Study Oysters, New Species In Chesapeake Bay With $1M Federal Grant

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– A million dollars might just buy some answers in the Chesapeake.

Alex DeMetrick reports a federal grant will explore an old animal in trouble, and a new one causing trouble.

Science knows a lot about what goes on under the Bay, but not everything.

“For a number of species, we still don’t know the basic biology of several of them,” Tuck Hines, of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, said. “Secondly, some of these species are actually new to the Bay.”

Specifically the blue catfish, which grows to more than 100 pounds. A ravenous eater, it has somehow made its way to the Chesapeake from the deep South.

“We just need to find out where the species lives, how many are out there, what they’re eating,” said Derek Orner, a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “A lot of questions like that, we just don’t know.”

There are also questions about native oysters which continue to struggle in the Bay.

“When we went out there in November, they were all dead,” Barry Sweitzer, a waterman, said. “I mean, some of the bars were 100 percent dead.”

A tremendous flow of freshwater from tropical storms killed those oysters, but a million dollar federal grant from the NOAA will allow researchers to conduct detailed oyster surveys, like the one done each year to determine the health of blue crabs.

That survey set new rules which saw the crab population grow, along with the catch for watermen.

“We hope that they keep rebounding and keep coming on stronger and stronger for us,” Troy Luongo said.

One species that’s virtually vanished from the Bay is the soft shell clam.

“The population of clams have dropped enormously to very, very low levels,” Hines said.

Native species in trouble and new invaders causing the problems are both priorities for study.

“There aren’t any really good management decisions if you don’t have good science behind it,” Orner said.

The NOAA has also awarded a $1 million grant to Virginia researchers to make sure studies include all of the Bay.

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