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Somber outdoors year in review

Joe Bruce took this Delmarva pond pickerel recently on his articulated Bullethead Darter.
Joe Bruce took this Delmarva pond pickerel recently on his articulated Bullethead Darter. (Bill May photo)

The year 2014 is ending on some somber notes.

Freshwater Fishing

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So far we've experienced a few of the mild early winter days we hoped for, allowing some decent fishing.

Liberty and Prettyboy Reservoirs are open through Dec. 31. Shoreline fishing is unlikely to be productive, but this is the favorite time of years for some reservoir subspecialists fishing from boats with such techniques as "float and fly" or deep jigging with Silver Buddy lures, jigs or jigging spoons. Jigging small darts can also produce bumper yields of crappie.

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Trout fishing can be good in state "catch and release" and "delayed harvest" streams with streamers and nymphs being the tickets.

Delmarva pond fishing has been good; Joe Bruce and Alan Feikin scored some big pickerel and panfish working various Bullethead Darters in shallow waters at several Delaware ponds. Winter is also the favorite time for taking big bass for Delaware pond guide Gene Kane (443-235-0648).

Saltwater Fishing

Things are pretty much over for most of Maryland's Chesapeake, though we are getting reports of big pods of stripers mid-Bay south of the Maryland/Virginia line. Reports from the CBBT (Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel) show some nice fish are being caught, mostly on eels or deep trolling. It could be the major run of migrating stripers have not arrived yet, but don't expect "the old days" of 10 years ago.

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Perch and pickerel fishing can be good in winter for such Chesapeake tributaries as the Choptank, Severn and Magothy.

Environmental Report, Chesapeake

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), representing 15 coastal states from Maine to Florida, has proposed regulations requiring member states From Maine to North Carolina, the migratory range of Chesapeake stripers, to reduce striper harvest 25 percent from 2013 levels while Chesapeake Bay states/jurisdictions are required to implement 20.5 percent harvest reductions from 2012 levels.

This is pretty much what was requested by such organizations as Coastal Conservation Association Maryland and Chesapeake Bay Foundation and is good news for fishermen in the long run. Striper stocks have been in decline for 10 years, and much of the recovery depends on the 2011 spawning stock.

Oysters are staging a bit of a comeback, but otherwise there are plenty of warning flags. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation coastwide populations of menhaden, often called "the most important fish in the sea," and prime gamefish forage, are at the lowest level on record. Blue crab populations are also down.

A study by U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists released last week revealed mean temperatures of Chesapeake Bay tributaries are about 2.5 degrees higher now than in 1960, a change that could reduce the expected benefits of Bay cleanup plans and affect marine wildlife. Bay grasses linger at 20 percent of historic levels, and sedimentation continues to be a problem. All these factors are related and synergistic.

Fracking the Marcellus Shale in Maryland

On Dec. 8, I attended the 35th and final meeting of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission at the Baltimore location, patched in on speakerphone from Oakland. The purpose of this meeting was to get final comments from the 14 Commissioners and from the public on the draft Final Report, which can be found at

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Advisory Commission Chairman, Dr. David Vanko wrote to the Baltimore Sun on Nov. 26: "Make no mistake — members of the advisory commission are somewhat divided, and the final report to the governor and legislature is not an advisory commission report. It's a MDE/DNR (Maryland Deaprtment of Environment/Department of Natural Resources) report written by the departments." Further, "…the draft report makes it clear that significant new regulations and strong enforcement must be in place in order to minimize the risks of unconventional natural gas development."

The affected parts of Maryland are primarily Garrett County, Allegany County to a lesser degree, and possibly, because of the gas dock at Cove Point, Calvert County.

The Final Report is practically a Rorschach Test of one's views of the still-controversial practice of fracking. Many people, including many decision-makers, will read the first three sentences of the Economic Impact section on page one of the Executive Summary and say we need to go ahead with fracking the Marcellus Shale in Garrett and Allegany Counties. They should not ignore the fourth sentence of that paragraph and the further qualifiers on pages 73 – 76. With Garrett County's economy so dependent on tourism and property taxes on recreational properties, it's possible the economic impact could be far less, even negative, in the long run. Commissioner Heather Mizeur stated, "We don't have a real cost-benefit analysis (CBA). We're fooling ourselves."

Commissioner Nick Weber addressed the health and environmental risks with the statement, "The people of Maryland should not be deluded that this is a safe process."

Outgoing Governor Martin O'Malley concluded fracking for natural gas can be done safely in Western Maryland after regulations are implemented to reduce air and water pollution and protect residents from well contamination, noise and other disruptions, and his administration is drafting new regulations.

The Governor's position appears to be based on acceptance of Advisory Commission recommendations for health and safety requirements, including lengthy baseline studies, that are far more demanding than exist at any Marcellus Shale fracking location. Pushback can be expected. Drew Cobbs, a spokesman for the Maryland Petroleum Council, stated at this meeting that these requirements were unnecessary and too restrictive.

Of the 33 public comments, 30 were opposed to fracking. "Who gets to decide "acceptable risk"?" and "Why should Garrett County be a Guiana pig?" were recurrent themes.

The consensus might be stated: "With health and environmental risks significant, economic benefits uncertain, a surfeit of natural gas in this country, why do we want to rush ahead so we can ship Maryland gas to Asia?" This is generally the position of Governor Mario Cuomo in his Dec. 17 decision to ban fracking in New York. (Last year California approved exploratory shale drilling and Illinois approved fracking.)

It will be up to the incoming Larry Hogan administration to decide whether to allow fracking and, if so, promulgate final regulations. Stay tuned.

Bill May is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcountytimes.com.

CAPTION PAGE

1. (JPEG: DSCN0856 copy-edited-1.jpg) Joe Bruce took this Delmarva pond pickerel recently on his articulated Bullethead Darter.

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2. (JPEG: CBBT20144 copy-edited-1.jpg) Ken Neil took this 43.5-pound striper Friday on an eel at the CBBT.

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