Letter: VIMS, VMRC caving to commercial interests
It is with great anguish that I write this letter. It is a letter that I feel in my heart I must write. The Chesapeake Bay is a great national treasure. It was named Chesapeake by the Indians, and it meant "Waters of Many Fish and Shellfish." My generation and the next generation have just about over-harvested the bay until it is on the edge of its demise.
Five years ago, the crab population was at an all-time low. The oysters are 99 percent depleted. Our wonderful shad fish are wiped out, as well as the Atlantic Blue Back Herring. Menhaden, a filter cleaner of the bay, are 80 percent depleted since 1990.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science documented the fact that half the bay—the upper half—was oxygen depleted. No marine body can live without oxygen. Underwater bay grasses are the beginning of the food chain. They are the main pollution fighters. They take in carbon dioxide, which are pollutants, and give off oxygen. At this point, winter crab dredging was stopped, but the crabbers were paid $300 a day for not dredging.
Because the dredging stopped, the female crabs were allowed to spawn and last year was a great crab season. The grass was allowed to grow and oxygen again enhanced the bay’s water quality.
At this point, I find myself in direct conflict with Dr. John T. Wells, director of VIMS. Together with the VMRC, they decided to do a "study." The cost was $98,806 and allowed four crab dredge boats to dredge for winter crabs, which are 95 percent impregnated female crabs. They could dredge for 42 days and catch 40 bushels per day. They could sell the crabs. One crab dredge boat moving at 5 mph for eight hours can destroy 40 miles of bay grass beds. Imagine what four boats can do to the grass beds in 42 days of dredging.
The result: They increased the pollution factor of the bay, decreased the oxygen content, and killed and prevented 4.3 million female crabs from spawning. I wrote a book and published it. The title was "Fighting to Save the Life of the Chesapeake Bay." All profits went to charity. Having been a waterman the early years of my life, I am legally blind, 89 years old and a D-Day veteran. I can understand the problem the current watermen have with diminished resources. Should we not remember the children and grandchildren that come in the next generation?
I asked Dr. Wells who paid for the advertising of VIMS on national news media, Fox cable, for public relations. The answer: private donations.
If VIMS and the VMRC continue to cave to commercial interests, the bay can never heal itself and come back. Every effort has been made to throw the blame of pollution on the back of the farmers and the cow. They are completely innocent.
I will end this with a challenge. If you want your grandchildren to enjoy the bay, you will have to fight to get it back.
Dr. John B. Lapetina Sr.
Former chairman, Fisheries Management
Virginia Marine Resources Commission
Port Haywood, Va.