Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Maryland Sea Grant Announces New Projects to Study Water Quality, Fisheries

February 17, 2014

Maryland Sea Grant has awarded seven grants to scientists at Maryland’s major research institutions for studies that could help improve and sustain the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality and fisheries.

The two-year awards, totaling approximately $1,000,000, will support research on watershed restoration; blue crab and menhaden fisheries; and nutrient and sediment dynamics in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

These research projects will be led by experts from the Johns Hopkins University, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), and the University of Maryland, College Park. The projects were selected through a peer-reviewed competition.

These project topics include:

  • Sediment and nutrient transport in the upper Chesapeake Bay: Since the 1930s, sediments and nutrients traveling down the Susquehanna River – the Bay’s largest tributary – have collected behind the Conowingo Dam, upriver from the Chesapeake Bay. However, as the dam approaches its capacity to store such material, sediment and nutrient loads from the river into the Bay may increase. In a set of paired studies, researchers will receive funding to study how the Susquehanna Flats eelgrass bed in the upper Bay, downstream from the dam, affects and controls the transformation of nutrients and transport of sediments in the Bay.

Investigators: Sediments – Lawrence Sanford and Cindy Palinkas, UMCES Horn Point Laboratory as well as Richard Ortt Jr., Maryland Geological Survey; Nutrients – Michael Kemp and Jeffrey Cornwell, UMCES Horn Point Laboratory

  • Training watershed stewards: How well do Watershed Stewards Academies attract and train citizens as well as protect the environment? This project will study these academies, which are local organizations that train citizens to work on water-quality improvement projects, to determine how well these programs meet social and environmental goals.

Investigator: Dana Fisher, University of Maryland, College Park

  • Historical trends in Bay nutrient and sediment: Long-term monitoring and modeling of nutrient and sediment inputs into the Chesapeake Bay have been critical for determining ecosystem health and informing regulatory action (e.g. TMDLs). This project will test state-of-the-art techniques to estimate nutrient and sediment loads in the main stem of the Bay and its nine major tributaries.

Investigator: William Ball, Johns Hopkins University

  • Using genetics to study stream ecology: Recent advances in genetic sequencing have allowed scientists to rapidly assess the diversity of microbes (such as bacteria) in nature. Working with the Maryland Biological Stream Survey, researchers will examine the current state of microbial diversity in Maryland streams and how this new information can contribute to understanding stream conditions, which are now studied in part through fish and invertebrate sampling.

Investigators: Stephen Keller and Robert Hildebrand, UMCES Appalachian Laboratory; Alyson Santoro, UMCES Horn Point Laboratory

  • Menhaden population dynamics: Menhaden are an important commercial fishery and serve as prey for many marine predators and game fish throughout the Chesapeake Bay. However, menhaden populations have decreased over the past 40 years. This study will look at historical mark-and-recapture data to assess how the populations have changed over time and what that means for current populations.

Investigators: Michael Wilberg and Thomas Miller, UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory; Amy Schueller and Joseph Smith, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Beaufort Laboratory

  • Recreational and commercial fishing of blue crab: The Chesapeake Bay’s iconic blue crab fishery is arguably one of the most closely managed fisheries in the Bay. Yet management decisions are hindered by unreliable estimates of recreational catch. This mark-and-recapture study will examine different fishing sectors to provide managers a more rigorous look at recreational catch numbers.

Investigators: Anson “Tuck” Hines and Matthew Ogburn, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Eric Johnson, University of North Florida

Maryland Sea Grant awards grants like these once every two years. Funding for this new group of projects is part of a cooperative agreement (NA14OAR 4170090) recently awarded to Maryland Sea Grant by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant Office. In addition to research projects, these funds will support research fellowships for graduate students as well as a portion of Maryland Sea Grant’s extension, education, and outreach activities across the state.

Maryland Sea Grant supports innovative marine research, education, and public outreach, primarily about the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, to support a sustainable coastal environment and economy. Past research studies funded by Maryland Sea Grant have made significant, positive impacts on efforts to improve Maryland's environment and economy. We are jointly funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Maryland.

For more information about these new research projects, contact Michael Allen, Ph.D, Assistant Director for Research at Maryland Sea Grant.