As part of the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay Watershed, there are six states including the District of Columbia that affect the health and productivity of the Rappahannock River. Across the region, many local delicacies such as a roasted oyster, a fried soft shell crab, or a baked rockfish are a product of the Bay and its tributaries, and are a connection between us and these once bountiful waters.

“When we can’t get the food on the table to enjoy the Chesapeake Bay’s bounty, we will never care to understand our role in the watershed and the health of the river,” says local waterman, Andrew Davis.

That’s why it was so exciting to have Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe visit the region last month, to kick off a promotion that will help folks enjoy the fruits of a restoration effort.

“Virginia produces the best oysters in the world and as the oyster industry continues to grow, we want to let it be known that Virginia is also the oyster capital of the East Coast,” McAuliffe said in a press release. Furthermore, Gov. McAuliffe announced the Virginia Oyster Trail to link people from across the watershed to the true seafood experience in Tidewater Virginia. Oysters are ecosystem engineers that filter water, provide habitat for the Bay and a living for watermen. Supporting such sustainable fisheries is vital to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

And so it has been disappointing to hear of the latest crab harvest restrictions going into effect this fall and the discussion of a suite of management options aimed at cutting recreational and commercial harvests of striped bass. These are the latest in a series of species-targeted catch restrictions designed to rebuild the Bay’s populations.

Unfortunately, balancing an ecosystem isn’t so simple. Aiming to rebuild the stock of one species can increase the competition for resources amongst other species. The Rappahannock River ecosystem is a delicate balance of many appetites, including blue crab, rockfish, oysters and certainly catfish. We can tinker with this balance, restricting the catch for one species and promoting another, but we are only ignoring the elephant in the room and that is the fact that the Chesapeake Bay no longer has the healthy habitats necessary to support robust populations of its species.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Bay’s underwater grasses are less than 20% of historic levels. And, on average, Virginians are replacing wetland habitat with hardened shorelines at an annual rate of about 28 miles per year. Hardened shorelines such as bulkheads and rip-rap can sever the intertidal zone, limiting the shoreline’s ability to reduce wave energy and filter nutrient pollution and sediment.

Without its protective skin, underwater grasses are clouded out by sediment, and nitrogen and phosphorus from excess fertilizers fuel algae blooms and massive anoxic ‘Dead Zones’ that don’t have enough oxygen to support aquatic life.

Once we realize we are a part of the problem, we can begin to become a part of the solution, and this is precisely the type of conversation that a family should be having over a bushel of crabs. For more information on playing a positive role in the health and production of our watershed, visit

By Richard Moncure, FOR Tidal River Steward

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