Maryland pushes for Chesapeake Bay state of emergency as invasive populations like snakeheads grow

Maryland lawmakers are urging the federal government to declare a state of emergency for Chesapeake Bay fisheries as invasive species continue to damage the ecology of the country's largest estuary.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the bipartisan congressional delegation says invasive catfish and snakehead fish, which feed on blue crabs, striped bass and other Chesapeake Bay species, are harming the state's seafood industry.

"Our state is a leading partner in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, designed to restore this national treasure and natural resource. One of the goals of the agreement, Sustainable Fisheries, is to protect, restore, and enhance finfish, shellfish, and other living resources, their habitats and ecological relationships to sustain all fisheries, and provide for a balanced ecosystem in the watershed," the lawmakers wrote. "This goal is being undermined by rapid range expansion and population growth of invasive species, particularly of blue catfish, with deleterious impacts on the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem."


The mouth and teeth of a northern snakehead are shown in a file image. (Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey Archive)

n March, Governor Wes Moore sent a letter to Raimondo asking her to declare the growing populations of invasive fish species - including blue catfish, flathead catfish, and snakeheads— an ongoing commercial fishery disaster in the Chesapeake.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service will conduct an evaluation. Following confirmation by Raimondo, NOAA would work with affected fisheries to distribute congressionally appropriated funds.

In previous instances, direct federal financial assistance has been provided to fishermen and fishing communities in the form of grants, job retraining, and low-interest loans.