Stop pitting one group against another

Posted at 1:55 PM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 13:55:34-05

In the past I’ve written a couple of pieces on the health of both the Chesapeake Bay and one of its major tributaries, the Susquehanna River. We’ve also run pieces on In Focus looking at how farmers in Maryland work to limit pollutants in the Bay.

So I found it interesting when this piece from Forbes came across the transom this morning. It talks about the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay plan to reduce pollution and runoff from farmlands through what’s called “Total Daily Maximum Load.”

I grew up near the banks of the Susquehanna and have fished it for several years, so having a clean and healthy waterway is important to me. I also grew up in farm country and had several friends who lived on farms. I know how hard those folks work and the sometimes onerous regulations put on them and the money they must spend to keep up with them.

All of which is why the headline for that article, (Chesapeake Bay Pollution Plan Pits Farmers Against Fishermen) troubles me. It immediately makes adversaries two passionate groups of people which in the end makes it nearly impossible to reach a consensus on something we should all easily and readily agree on…a clean, healthy Bay and its tributaries.

Anglers want healthy waterways with healthy populations of game fish, grasses and forage species. Farmers need clean water for crops and livestock. So to me it makes far more sense to get those two groups together to come up with their own comprehensive plan to keep the waterways in their areas pollution free.

And anglers, we’re not without sin here so don’t immediately start pointing the finger of blame at farmers. You know what I’m talking about. Who among us hasn’t walked a bank line and found wads of line and other trash littering the area? And how many times have you hooked into something from your boat only to find a massive wad of fishing line and lead weights on the other end?

I also don’t believe this should be a top-down approach, much like the states who filed a brief opposing the “TDML” plan. Who knows the lands and waterways better than those who work and fish them? Certainly not a bureaucrat a hundred miles away. We know every rock, laydown, and grass line on our favorite body of water, much like a farmer knows every contour, fence row, and watering hole in his fields and pastures.

Which is why it always bothers me when I see quotes from John Arway, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission urging EPA to step in and help the Susquehanna River.

I understand the director’s frustration with government officials at the state and local level. We really do want the same thing, we just don't agree on the best route to get there.

And that’s why I believe it’s up to us (anglers, farmers, fish and boat employees, natural resources folks) to sit down together in our towns and counties and work together on these solutions. Then push them up the ladder, not have them come rolling down on our heads from the top. 

* Jeff Herman is the assistant news director at WMAR | ABC2. His main passion while not at work is fishing. This column is part of a series of columns he writes for our outdoors page. You can read more of his columns here.