When I was in middle school, I developed a bit of a dinosaur obsession. I know, it sounds a bit late to be fostering a stereotypical dinosaur hobby, but my interest came from one dinosaur in particular. It was at the start of a two week Chesapeake Bay field study with CBF between my 6th and 7th grade years. A researcher in one of their labs opened up a freezer and presented us with the massive frozen head of an Atlantic sturgeon. Right then, I felt like I’d actually seen a real dinosaur.
The Atlantic sturgeon captures a unique combination of rarity and symbolism which makes it an iconic Chesapeake Bay species. John Smith wrote about catching them in the hundreds, to the point where they fed them to the colony’s dogs. I think of them a little bit like the bald eagles of the sea- an iconic and once abundant symbol, reminiscent of a clean natural environment and the abundance it brings.
It seems a bit of a slap in the face (tail slap?) that the rarest of all fishes in the region could be overshadowed and supplanted by the most common table fare from the sea one can buy. It’d be as if a bald eagle sanctuary were converted to a chicken farm. But that seems to be the plan on Marshyhope Creek on the Nanticoke, with a massive salmon-farming operation being proposed in the watershed nearby.
The Marshyhope is by no means a pristine, clearwater stream as it is. Like many Eastern Shore tributaries, it's had issues with nutrient runoff from agriculture and farming operations. The fact that sturgeon have found their way into the creek is impressive to say the least.
I made two stops on the Marshyhope on my last trip out to the Eastern Shore. Once was planned, stopping at the boat ramp in Federalsburg to scope out what I could of the area. Could I maybe catch a glimpse of a school of sturgeon breaching the surface? No such luck. The second was back on the road for a quick stop at a WMA. No such luck there either.
It's estimated that there are less than 50 Atlantic sturgeon that breed in the upper waters of Marshyhope Creek. It’s perhaps the only reliable location in Maryland to find them. The new salmon farm is proposed to be built a bit off the creek by Aquacon, a Norwegian company.
It should be noted that this isn't the only salmon farm being proposed. It's been reported that the salmon farm would be the first of three salmon farms on the Eastern Shore. When all is said and done, the salmon farming operations could make salmon the most harvested and commercially valuable seafood coming from the Chesapeake.
I'm not an opponent of change, to be honest. Change is in fact a major theme of the One Hundred Shores project. But it still seems a bit off that a region synonymous with seafood harvest as well as watermen traditions would soon have its number one seafood product be an upstart farm-raised product. A product raised in a warehouse that's not even on the water.
Maybe not being on the water isn't a bad thing though. There’s more than a bit of irony in the fact that the salmon farm would take over a previously existing chicken farm. To be fair, the proposed impact on the Nanticoke comes from the added environmental impact of the wastewater line. The salmon won't be swimming around in pens along the creek, rest assured.
In fact, as described by Aquacon, the farming operation objectively sounds pretty fascinating. We've heard stories of the environmental impact of farm-raised fisheries over the past decade or so, but like all new technologies, the salmon-farming production has improved in terms of quality and environmental impact. I think it's still fair to remain apprehensive though.
Approval of the project is still ongoing. The warehouse itself would be one of the largest single facilities on the Eastern Shore, so there’s some caution moving forward from numerous stakeholders. In the meantime, sturgeon reports are sparsely coming from a variety of locations in areas where they hadn’t been seen in decades. Maybe a few of their tanks could be set aside for sturgeon raising? A win for two fish at the same time.