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Chris Dollar on the outdoors: Arrival of autumn shakes things up on fishing scene | COMMENTARY

Right on cue, almost at the same time summer officially yielded to autumn on the calendar, a rowdy cold front rushed through our area — carrying with it strongly northwesterly winds that sent temperatures tumbling.

The change heralded in the early days of autumn and is bound to shake things up on the fishing scene, and wildlife in general will react to shorter days and colder nights.

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Bluefish and Spanish mackerel no doubt will feed voraciously to pack on fuel for the trek down the bay. Cousins white perch and rockfish will also put on the feed bag, as will other game fish like red drum and speckled trout.

The fattest and tastiest crabs of the year are waiting to be caught in weeks to come. I’d imagine the weather change will also get dove trading from field to field, and inspire teal to fly more actively in the marshes.

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The larger migratory pushes by waterfowl aren’t too far off. National Estuaries Week coincided with the arrival of fall, as it has done during the third week of September for the past 34 years. It’s a way to highlight the importance of one of Earth’s most important resources, and few estuaries in the world are as special as our Chesapeake.

For the past 34 years, the third week of September typically has been recognized as National Estuaries Week, highlighting the importance of one of Earth’s most important resources. The Chesapeake is the largest estuary in the U.S., and even in its debilitated condition the Bay still holds unique gems of nature waiting to be discovered.

Even in its current debilitated condition (relative to its unspoiled state), today’s bay still holds unique gems of nature waiting to be discovered. And most importantly conserved.

But let me offer a reminder of what an estuary is: An area where freshwater meets the ocean. Specifically, the Chesapeake Bay combines the salty Atlantic Ocean mixing with freshwater from scores of rivers and creeks. The mighty Susquehanna system provides most of the freshwater, followed by the Potomac and then the James. The result is brackish water, and for me no sweeter water exists anywhere.

People way smarter than me (not that hard to do) have analyzed data that pegs the Chesapeake Bay’s annual economic value at over $100 billion. Although year-to-year production varies, roughly half a billion pounds of a seafood are harvested each year from the Chesapeake, not just supporting people’s livelihoods but providing a unique way of life. Combined, sport fishing, boating, hunting and other recreational pursuits are worth several billions of dollars.

I cannot begin to calculate what the Chesapeake Bay has meant and still means for my soul. I can’t put a price tag on that.

Youth sport fishing

Occasionally, Congress proves it can move past the screech of partisan politics and initiates things that can actually make us a stronger community.

That seems to have happened this past week after Virginia Congressman A. Donald McEachin and Congresswoman Maria E. Salazar of Florida introduced a bill, called the Youth Coastal Fishing Program Act, which if enacted would create a grant program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish youth fishing programs for urban and underserved communities.

A good concept is a long way from being fully funded and established, of course, but supporters say it would go a long way to lessen the financial and structural barriers that often prevent young people from becoming next generation of anglers and conservationists.

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In a statement, Congressman McEachin said: “No child should be unable to participate in outdoor recreation simply because of their socioeconomic status or zip code. The bipartisan Youth Coastal Fishing Program Act will provide our youth, especially those in historically underserved communities, with new opportunities to get outside, cultivate a love and appreciation for fishing, and learn more about marine science and conservation.”

Remarked Congresswoman Salazar: “I am pleased to provide younger generations of Americans across the country, especially minority Americans, the opportunity to learn firsthand about our seas, oceans and lakes, as well as provide them with the tools to enjoy them.”

Many major sportfishing and conservation groups have signed on in support of the measure, including the American Sportfishing Association, BoatU.S., Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. Other supporters, perhaps not as well known in the outdoors space but no doubt equally important include Ebony Anglers, Hunters of Color, and Youth Environmental Alliance.

As a guide and outdoor educator, I’ve seen firsthand how time spent on the Bay and its rivers — catching your first fish, netting a crab, paddling through a wetland — can positively influence a young person. Research demonstrates that time spent out-of-doors improves many facets of our health, as well as improve our outlook on the world.

Who can’t use more of that?

Calendar

Through Sept. 30: Teal-only hunting season. Shooting hours: one half-hour before sunrise until sunset. Daily bag limit is six teal (blue or green-winged); the possession limit teal is three times the daily bag limit.

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Through Oct. 15: Dove Season, first split. Fifteen birds per day.

Sept. 26: Maryland and Potomac River Public Hearing for Fishery Management Plan for Menhaden. 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Hybrid meeting, in-person at DNR Tawes Building, C-1 Conference Room, 580 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis.

Sept. 30: Public comment deadline for Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Menhaden Draft Addendum I. Email comments@asmfc.org, with Atlantic Menhaden in the subject line.

Oct. 6-9: U.S. Power Boat Show. City Dock, Annapolis, MD. Check out the “Fishing Spot” display with vendors. See the debut of Harvester, a new media platform for fishing, hunting, and shooting sports. Details at annapolisboatshows.com.

Oct. 9-17: Rod and Reef Slam Fishing Tournament. Anglers who catch the most different species win gift cards and prizes worth up to $300. Family-friendly tournament includes powerboat, kayak, and youth divisions. Entry is $25. Register before Oct. 1 and get a free shirt. Sponsored by CBF, Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, and Coastal Conservation Association Maryland.

Send calendar listings, news and photos to cdollarchesapeake@gmail.com.


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