Tragedy of the Soft Shell and Razor Clam

I read Tragedy of the Commons many times in my undergraduate career. We are all familiar with the premise: overuse of a common resource for personal benefit ultimately eliminates that resource, spoiling it for everyone. To ensure that our common resources do not become depleted in Maryland or the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) works to “preserve, protect, restore, and enhance our environment for this and future generations.” Specifically, DNR strives to create balance between our economy and our environment, which we at ShoreRivers commend and support. 

Consider the eastern oyster, for example, a filter feeder that improves water quality and habitat, and is an iconic menu item for locals and tourists alike. A DNR Fishery Management Plan is needed for this species to ensure that we continue to see both ecological and economic benefits for generations to come. This is an example of a state agency regulating a natural resource so that all can benefit.

Two lesser known bivalve species in the Bay provide similar ecological value. Soft shell clams and razor clams filter the same volume of gallons in one day as the oyster. Numerous studies have found that these species once played an integral role in the Chesapeake’s food web, as a primary food source for multiple predators. Unfortunately, also similar to the eastern oyster, these clam species are on the brink of extinction in the Chesapeake Bay.

The soft shell clam fishery has been “boom and bust” since the invention of the hydraulic dredge in the 1950’s. “Boom” times with high harvest rates and high numbers of clamming licenses are followed by “bust” times with significant drops in clam populations, which result in lower harvest rates and fewer licenses. 

Considering the high ecological value these species provide and their current low populations, ShoreRivers believes they are in need of conservation. Without a DNR Fishery Management Plan, there is currently no balance between the economic and ecological value of these clams. To ensure this balance is established and that there are clams in our Maryland waterways in the future, ShoreRivers fought for a Fishery Management Plan for the clam fishery during the 2019 Maryland Legislative General Assembly. This bill would have initiated relatively low-cost studies of current clam populations and habitats, impacts to the population from climate change, and economic and ecological values of clams.  

Unfortunately, the Department of Natural Resources was not supportive of this bill and was unwilling to compromise. DNR’s main argument was that these species are too transient and difficult to study. However, considering that there have been studies of these species in the past (although none that inform regulation), and the fact that these species continue to be harvested, we feel that this decision clearly states that DNR is supportive of the economic value of these species, more so than the ecological value. If we are unable to study a species, consider the ecological value, or make regulation recommendations that promote sustainability, then we should not have that commercial fishery.

Yes, we are all familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, but it seems as though our current administration is choosing to ignore the warning signs of resource depletion. To be clear, I am in support of sustainable fisheries – fisheries that provide economic value, support our local watermen, and ensure that species continue to provide ecological benefits to our ecosystems.

However, if, according to DNR, it is not possible to find balance between economy and ecology, then which side should we choose? What repercussions might we see if we lose the soft shell and razor clams? As Miles-Wye Riverkeeper, I have the privilege of giving a voice to the river; I have no doubt the river would choose the side of ecological benefits.


Elle Bassett
Miles-Wye Riverkeeper
443.385.0511 ext 213

ShoreRivers Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week – March 31 to April 7


ShoreRivers has launched its fourth annual Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week (LFAW) from March 31 to April 7, 2019. For this initiative, ShoreRivers partners with other organizations throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed to provide awareness about lawn fertilizer usage. Last year, LFAW reached over 24,000 individuals via social media, and aims even higher for this year.

The goal of Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week is to inform the public about the effects of lawn fertilizer, while encouraging individuals and lawn care professionals to reduce fertilizer use and turn to organic products for healthier lawns and waterways. This social media campaign includes daily posts that highlight native plant landscaping that requires less fertilizer, as well as ways to make composted fertilizer. LFAW also focuses on the impacts of nitrogen and phosphorus—two key ingredients in fertilizer—on water quality for the Chesapeake Bay. Runoff of these nutrients from lawns into waterways is known to cause harmful algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses, rob the water of oxygen, and threaten underwater life.

Last year, this campaign introduced ShoreRivers’ new River-Friendly Yards program. ShoreRivers, with support from Chesapeake Bay Trust and Queen Anne’s County, is working to empower residents in the Chester and Sassafras watersheds to implement best practices and establish more river-friendly yards that mimic the natural environment to benefit water quality. ShoreRivers encourages residents to adopt river-friendly practices to achieve healthy waterways across Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The 2019 campaign will give an update on the program and highlight Maryland laws and regulations. It will include fun, simple, and attractive ways to transform yards. Maryland’s Nutrient Management Program has the goal of protecting water quality by ensuring that both farmers and urban land managers are safely applying fertilizer. Lawn fertilizer accounts for approximately 44 percent of the fertilizer sold in Maryland. There are over 1,300,000 acres of lawns in Maryland; almost 86 million pounds of nitrogen lawn fertilizer will be applied to these properties each year. It is critical that everyone know the importance of applying fertilizer in an effective and environmentally sound manner for the health of Maryland’s tributaries and the Chesapeake Bay.

Follow along with Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week 2019 by tuning into ShoreRivers’ social media pages.

More details are available at Additional guidance, along with seasonal and yearly fertilizer rates, is available at county extension offices or online at For more information about Lawn Fertilizer Awareness Week, visit or contact Rachel Plescha at ShoreRivers at or 443.385.0511 ext 208.

A Message from our Director of Riverkeepers - Oysters and Talbot County Council

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An important piece of legislation is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly that would protect our oyster sanctuaries “in perpetuity,” giving actual meaning to the word “sanctuary,” and allowing oyster aquaculture to occur within and as a complement to protected wild oysters inside these sanctuaries. The bill is labeled House Bill 298 and Senate Bill 448 “OYSTERS-TRIBUTARY-SCALE SANCTUARIES-PROTECTION AND RESTORATION.

ShoreRivers has been working for years to advance measures to restore and protect our oyster populations. On behalf of our several thousand members, we strongly support this bill. Numerous other organizations dedicated to Chesapeake Bay restoration support this bill. ShoreRivers’ staff professionals, in fact, have been testifying in Annapolis in support of this bill. It came as quite a surprise to learn, not from our county council, but from others while testifying in Annapolis, that the Talbot County Council is trying to undermine these efforts and has written a letter to state legislators formally opposing this bill. 

In the letter, the council made statements such as, “we are very concerned that the state’s focus on aquaculture in sanctuaries is being done at the expense of maintaining a viable public oyster fishery.” And, “sanctuaries have not yet proven themselves as a better restoration option than a well-managed oyster fishery.” Going further, the council wrote, “A properly maintained fishery can keep the oyster stock healthier and more vital than an unattended and unmanaged sanctuary.”

At ShoreRivers, we have been studying this issue for years. We are science-based. We find these quoted statements surprisingly uninformed, and, in our view, contrary to the science, to the welfare of our rivers, and to the views of many county residents. Moreover, to our knowledge, there was no opportunity for public input in the council’s decision to attack this bill, no public advance notice that the council was considering this issue, and no public vote by the council.

 Regarding the council’s letter, first, there is no scientific basis to call our oyster fishery “well-managed, properly maintained, or viable.” It is well known that our current oyster population is less than 1% of historic levels. Since 1999, our population of adult oysters has diminished by half. Whether our state should allow the harvest of wild oysters at all is a reasonable question. No other fishery in the world that has been so decimated even permits a wild harvest. In the late 1980s, Maryland imposed a five-year moratorium on striped bass fishing, and in the 1990s, goose hunting was suspended to protect populations that were nowhere near as decimated as our oyster population.

 Second, these sanctuaries are, in fact, working. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent by state and federal agencies, and countless efforts have been made by numerous private nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens to create and populate these sanctuaries. Two of these key sanctuaries benefit Talbot County directly, one in Harris Creek and one in the Tred Avon River. Data from Harris Creek, the first of these to be seeded, show that oyster reefs within the sanctuaries are meeting the success metrics for oyster density and biomass. A recent study by The Nature Conservancy found that restored reefs in Harris Creek are able to filter all the volume of water in the creek in less than 10 days during the summer months, and they have the potential to remove one million pounds of nitrogen over a decade. The sanctuaries have exceeded all expectations. The benefits of similar type sanctuaries to restore decimated fishery populations has been proven to be effective countless times around country and the world.

 Third, to say that large tributary-scale oyster restoration will “seriously or fatally injure the industry, causing loses in both jobs and revenue” is shortsighted. A study released earlier this month by Morgan State University found that “fully mature oyster reefs in the Chesapeake would yield a 150 percent increase to blue crab harvest and an estimated $10-million increase in annual fishing revenues in the region.” Hotels, marinas, bait shops, and other marine industries in the county would surely support the added benefits from a boost in recreational fishing and tourism brought by having restored oyster reefs.

 The Talbot County Council represents more than one constituent group. ShoreRivers has thousands of members, and we were never given the opportunity to have our views considered by our council. To our knowledge, other constituent groups, such as our growing aquaculture industry, were not given such an opportunity. The public at large was not given this opportunity. We find it objectionable that our council would seek to undermine this important State bill without providing its entire constituent base with the opportunity to be heard. And that it would seek to undermine it based on uninformed and misleading statements.

Robust oyster populations are essential in restoring and protecting our rivers and bay. We hope the members of our community who support real “sanctuaries” will let their views be known both to our state representatives and to the Talbot County Council.

Matt Pluta
Choptank Riverkeeper

ShoreRivers Announces New Sassafras Riverkeeper, New Galena Office, and Expanded Geographic Coverage

ShoreRivers is pleased to announce that Zack Kelleher will serve as the new Sassafras Riverkeeper, acting as primary spokesperson for the Sassafras River, and advocating for its protection and restoration. Kelleher will use advocacy, outreach, restoration, and education to be a voice for the river, its natural resources, and its inhabitants. He will be a vigilant, on-the-water presence working with local communities to achieve a healthier Sassafras by using science-based solutions to tackle issues including the Conowingo Dam, invasive water chestnuts, and harmful algal blooms.  Additionally, Kelleher will expand outreach and restoration programs to four creeks in northern Kent County that flow directly to the Bay: Fairlee Creek, Worton Creek, Churn Creek, and Still Pond Creek.

“It’s an honor to become the Sassafras Riverkeeper and be a part of an inspiring and effective organization like ShoreRivers that fights tirelessly for Eastern Shore waterways,” said Kelleher. “I’m incredibly humbled to be voice of the Sassafras, its natural bounty, and its community. I’ll see you on the water!”

A native Marylander, Kelleher’s conservation ethic and love of the Chesapeake Bay comes from the time he spent growing up outside of Tilghman Island. There, he learned to appreciate the rich cultural heritage and immense beauty of the Eastern Shore while hunting, fishing, and crabbing on Harris Creek and the Choptank and Miles Rivers. Kelleher graduated from the University of Maryland with degrees in Psychology and Sustainability. Prior to becoming a Riverkeeper, he was ShoreRivers’ restoration and outreach manager. Kelleher is excited to continue furthering ShoreRivers’ mission of protecting and restoring Eastern Shore waterways while serving as the voice of the Sassafras.

ShoreRivers opened a new office in downtown Galena on March 1. Located in the heart of town, ShoreRivers will be an active, contributing member of the community and a clearinghouse of resources for community members. This office location will allow ShoreRivers to continue expanding its reach into northern Kent County and southern Cecil County to effectively work with communities throughout the Sassafras and northern Chesapeake watersheds and tackle water quality issues with a local, hands-on approach.   The new office address is 111A North Main Street, Galena.

Learn more at For more information or to get involved with ShoreRivers, contact Zack Kelleher at or 410-810-7556 x281.


ShoreRivers Partners with Town of Templeville on Pond Restoration

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ShoreRivers has been awarded a $19,000 grant from Chesapeake Bay Trust to support the Town of Templeville’s restoration efforts at their town park by installing a denitrification wall around the north shoreline of the park’s pond.

In the past, the park and its pond were a gathering place and local fishing spot for town residents; but it has deteriorated over time. Unfortunately, the park area is now overgrown with invasive and nuisance weeds, and the increased load of nutrients has turned the pond eutrophic, or overly rich in nutrients. While discussing the current conditions, Mayor Helen Knotts said, “I remember when the neighborhood kids would fish and play in the park. The commissioners and I are very excited to work to restore the space as a great place for kids and families again.”

The town has a long-standing interest in returning the park to a suitable gathering place where local residents may once again spend time and recreate. In order to accomplish this, sources of nutrients must be reduced, and groundwater and surface water need to be better managed.

In 2017, the town was awarded a Chesapeake Bay Trust grant for community outreach and to design a plan to address the residential management of polluted runoff that affects the park. Town officials are currently working to secure funds to implement the practices identified in the plan. Meanwhile, ShoreRivers worked with Chesapeake Biological Lab (CBL) to test water and better understand the sources of nutrients that are impacting it. In 2018, researchers from CBL took water samples from several locations around the pond and tested them for sucralose. Also known as artificial sweetener and used in many diet foods consumed by humans, sucralose does not break down in the body or in septic systems. Therefore, the presence of sucralose in surface waters can be an indicator of domestic wastewater entering the pond.

“Domestic wastewater is a threat to human and environmental health and can cause serious waterborne illnesses when people like fisherman, boaters, and swimmers come in contact with it,” says Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta. “We were excited to apply cutting-edge research on sucralose testing as a way to scientifically identify what is impacting the town pond and how it should be addressed.”

One solution that will be implemented is the installation of a denitrification filter wall, which will intercept groundwater and filter nutrients passing through. A four-foot deep and three-foot wide trench will be filled with local sawdust that acts as a carbon source to grow the bacteria needed to break down nitrogen in the water. Once installed, the wall is covered over with soil and planted with grass, resulting in an attractive camouflage of the wall. Only a handful of these practices have been installed in Maryland, with another having been installed by ShoreRivers on a dairy farm in Caroline County.

To kick-off these efforts, the town will host a volunteer cleanup of debris and overgrown vegetation in the park area. This cleanup will be part of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Project Clean Stream, and is tentatively scheduled for April 14 at 1pm. Contact the Town of Templeville Town Manager Cindy Burns at for more information and to sign up. Other project partners include Caroline County, University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, and local residents in Templeville.

For more information, contact Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta at or 443.385.0511 ext 203.

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ShoreRivers Welcomes Rebekah Hock as New Director of Development

ShoreRivers is pleased to announce that Rebekah Hock has joined the organization as director of development. Hock will lead the ShoreRivers development team in community engagement and advancing the organization’s mission through dynamic communications, exciting events, and strategic fundraising.

 A 2005 graduate of Washington College, Hock has grown roots on the Eastern Shore. Serving Washington College’s Advancement Department in leadership roles from 2006-2016, she succeeded in raising annual fund donations for her alma mater and engaging the alumni community through volunteerism and events. Most recently, she supported adults with diverse abilities as Administration & Development lead at the Kent Center. 

“I am both honored and excited to join the amazing team at ShoreRivers,” Hock expressed. “As a supporter and volunteer for the Chester River Association, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that smart advocacy and mission-driven projects can have on our community. By creating stronger connections throughout the Eastern Shore, I’m eager to help build on the grassroots foundation that created ShoreRivers.”

“All of us here at ShoreRivers are excited to have someone of Rebekah's professional experience and passion for our rivers joining our team,” Jeff Horstman, executive director of ShoreRivers, stated. “This addition gives us even more capacity to meet our mission of ‘Healthy waterways across Maryland's Eastern Shore.’”

Hock resides in Chestertown, Maryland, with her husband, Adam. When they aren’t boating together, you may hear her performing with the musical group, Harp & Soul.

For more information about ShoreRivers, visit Contact Rebekah Hock at or 443.385.0511 ext 206.


ShoreRivers is seeking a Summer Intern for 2019

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ShoreRivers is seeking applicants for an exciting, hands-on summer internship experience in the environmental field. ShoreRivers is a nonprofit organization that protects and restores Eastern Shore waterways through science-based advocacy, restoration, and education. With offices in Easton, Chestertown, and Galena MD, the organization serves as an advocate for the health of our area rivers and the living resources they support. Our programs promote environmental awareness of the essential role local rivers and streams play in the community, the issues that threaten their health and vitality, and solutions that must be implemented to preserve them. The summer intern will be based out of the organization’s Easton office with occasional travel throughout mid-shore counties. 

To learn more about this opportunity, including responsibilities, qualifications, and the application process, please read the full internship description here.

Envision the Choptank Partnership Receives $1 Million to Advance Restoration

Shown is a retrofit of a 2-stage ditch, an example of a restoration practice eligible for funding by a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund for restoration practices throughout the Choptank River watershed.

Shown is a retrofit of a 2-stage ditch, an example of a restoration practice eligible for funding by a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund for restoration practices throughout the Choptank River watershed.

To support the Envision the Choptank partnership, ShoreRivers was awarded a $1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund to accelerate the implementation of restoration practices throughout the Choptank River watershed with the goal of improving water quality and reducing nutrients and sediment.

The grant was awarded through NFWF’s Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction program and will support the partnership’s efforts to engage private agricultural landowners in installing some of the most effective pollution-reducing restoration practices on our local waterways. Funds will be used to design and develop innovative incentive programs and hire a Landowner Assistance Coordinator to assist landowners with the installation of wetlands, buffers, and ditch retrofits. Through these efforts, the partnership plans to restore over 200 acres, helping state and local counties meet their nutrient and sediment reduction goals.

“The advantage of a partnership like Envision the Choptank is that we’re able to build on the strengths of many organizations and agencies to tackle more complex and larger-scale projects,” said ShoreRivers Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta. “ShoreRivers is happy to provide our scientific and technical expertise to the partnership, as well as direct resources to agricultural landowners in the watershed that will help accelerate the implementation of clean water projects.”

Envision the Choptank partners, including ShoreRivers, Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Soil Conservation Districts, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), will also develop opportunity maps for each of the five counties located within the Choptank watershed—Caroline, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot in Maryland and Kent County in Delaware. Using fine-scale resolution topography, land use data, and input from local stakeholders, partners will identify locations where restoration practices will be most effective at reducing nutrients and sediment.

“Using the latest science to identify locations where restoration practices will be most effective helps landowners make informed land-use decisions and ensures that private and public funds are maximizing the return on these investments for cleaner water,” said TNC Maryland/DC Agricultural Program Director Amy Jacobs.

The funding will build on and help expand and mature the Envision the Choptank partnership. Since 2015, the partnership has been bringing together organizations, agencies, and individuals to identify and implement collaborative solutions to meet their joint mission of providing swimmable, fishable waters and enhancing the health and productivity of native oysters in a way that best meets the needs of surrounding communities. The group has grown to include a 17-member Steering Committee and has engaged over 800 people in completing a Common Agenda for the watershed, to be officially launched in 2019. The Agenda can be found at

“DNR is very excited to utilize and leverage our Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund grants in the Choptank watershed to begin carrying out the strategies of our Common Agenda. These efforts will further support the state’s mission to restore and protect water quality and habitats in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including the Choptank River,” said Carrie Decker, Natural Resource Planner and Project Manager with DNR’s Habitat Restoration and Conservation Division.

The partnership welcomes participants to this collaborative endeavor. The initiative’s success will depend on the diversity of organizations and individuals engaged. “If we all work together, we can deliver results that improve both the environmental and the socio-economic health of the watershed, creating a swimmable, fishable Choptank for every community,” said CBF Eastern Shore Director Alan Girard.

Individuals or organizations in the Choptank River watershed interested in engaging in Envision the Choptank, or anyone wanting to learn more about the work of the initiative, is encouraged to contact the partnership at

Previous support for the partnership was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation with assistance from the Chesapeake Conservancy.

The Envision the Choptank partnership works to provide swimmable, fishable waters and enhance the health and productivity of native oysters in a way that best meets the needs of surrounding communities. Current Steering Committee members include: Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Eastern Shore Land Conservancy; Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Maryland Department of the Environment; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Oyster Recovery Partnership; Pickering Creek Audubon Center; ShoreRivers, Inc; Mt. Pleasant Heritage Preservation, Inc.; Talbot Soil Conservation District; The Nature Conservancy; University of Maryland Extension, Talbot County; University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension.