In the Aftermath
of Hurricane Sandy
CBF President Will Baker
he extraordinary devastation of Hurricane
Sandy makes all of us feel physically ill.
Our hearts go out to those who continue to suffer.
While the damage to property and people is obvious, the water-quality
impacts are just now being fully
assessed. Chemicals and sediment washed from the land have
fouled the waters from New
Jersey to Connecticut.
Clearly, the strategies employed over the
last several years to bring back the
Chesapeake are beginning to work. That
gives the Bay greater resilience. Better
sewage treatment, improved agricultural
practices, restored habitat, and even green
infrastructure are all doing their job. But
they are not enough to stand up to a killer
storm. We have a lot more to do. Sandy cut
us a break. She gave us some time. Now,
we have to finish the job.
Did global climate change contribute to Sandy’s intensity? That’s
actually the wrong question. The
right one is, Will climate change
spawn more storms, more tidal
surges, more extreme weather events of all
types? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
So in 2013, the Virginia General Assembly
will have the responsibility of deciding if
Virginia should impose new menhaden
management measures to address a
declining population. If they do not, they
will be ignoring sound science and continuing to allow a large Houston-based
company, Omega Protein, to catch
170,000 metric tons a year of menhaden for various non-food, commercial uses. This will result in
further damage to a multi-million
dollar sport-fishing industry,
which relies on menhaden as an
essential element of the sport fish
food chain. And there is more. The
broader Bay restoration effort also
will be set back as menhaden play
a critical ecological role as filter feeders.
Here on the Chesapeake, we largely
dodged the proverbial bullet. But think
how close we came. If Sandy had turned
inland just slightly farther south, we would
be the focus of national disaster relief and
media attention. And the environmental
toll could have set Chesapeake restoration
accomplishments back by decades.
The Most Important Fish
in the Sea Will Help
Virginia legislators have consistently
opposed efforts to allow fisheries scien-
tists to manage menhaden, dubbed “the
most important fish in the sea” by H.
Bruce Franklin in his seminal book of
the same name. All other fisheries are
managed by the Virginia Marine
Resources Commission, a science-based
agency established in 1875, but men-
haden are under the sole purview of
Under consideration will be recommendations from the Atlantic States Marine
Fisheries Commission, which will require
science-based catch limits. Virginia has
already threatened to withdraw from the
Commission, ignoring the lengthy and
open process of decision-making. Lawsuits
are likely. What a waste of money, time,
and good science that would be.
So does this mean we should abandon our
efforts to save the Bay because natural
events, stoked by climate change, will
overwhelm us? Absolutely not. Just as with
our own health, the best defense against
injury is a strong body.