DFA Chairman Robert Newberry and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

The Chairman’s Corner – Captain Robert Newberry

Wild-Caught Oysters are the Cornerstone of our State 9-12-2018
With the most recent questions about the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay after unseasonably heavy rains, the recommendation of the Manokin River as the fifth Maryland tributary for oyster restoration, and the possibility of a major hurricane affecting this area, it’s been a busy couple of weeks on the Peninsula.

One thing I’m currently focusing on, as a member of the Maryland Aquaculture Review Team (MART), is the issue of the oyster restoration efforts, present and future. When ENGOs originally began touting the oyster as a Bay BMP, the measurement of credit for nutrient reduction was only applicable to oysters that had been removed from the Bay and had their muscle mass weighed. I found their framing of their results confusing. They break it down to cost per pound, a smart thing to do to figure the bang for your buck. They hoped that this would benefit the burgeoning aquaculture industry and open up new funding sources. However, the flaw in their model was the fact that you had to pull the oysters out of the water in order to weigh them and get credit, which meant the nutrient reduction credits couldn’t be assigned to oysters in sanctuaries. This summer, a report was issued supposedly justifying the 23 million plus dollars spent on the Harris Creek by modeling nutrient reduction in a new way. I’m interested to delve further into this report and see how they were able to manage their calculations without using the accepted standard.

The bottom line is this: the more oysters that are put in the water, filter that water over time, and then (and here’s the important part) are harvested, thereby removing the oyster and the nutrients it has gobbled up, the better the water quality. Letting them just sit there means the nutrients are also sitting there and this ultimately affects the longevity of the bivalve in question as they are more vulnerable to disease or being smothered by silt if not managed properly through rotational harvest.

The other problem at hand is the ongoing oyster aquaculture dilemma. The aforementioned Aquaculture Review Team is doing a good job of addressing some of the issues, but a foundational element of the conflict is not being properly acknowledged. It appears that aquaculture in the State of Maryland is being promoted in order to bring about the demise of the wild harvesting commercial industry. We hear private individuals consistently say that waterman are dinosaurs, that the fishery is disappearing, and the only thing future is aquaculture for all. This is absolutely the wrong angle for these aquaculturists to take. According to the Executive Director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, Bob Rheault, in his recent remarks to MART, aquaculturists should be working hand in hand with the commercial industry, and not target areas where commercial harvesting has historically been done.

Our industry is under attack. Under a previous administration our productive bottom was reduced by much more than the stated 25%. In reality it was closer to 50%. Now, those in the aquaculture business are leasing areas that not only affect oystering, but also crabbing, clamming…even the rights of riparian owners to harvest waterfowl! This is getting out of hand. In my view, we must step back and completely reevaluate the comprehensive aquaculture bill of 2010. I’m pleased that MART is meeting several more times to discuss these exact issues; however, we need to see members of the General Assembly showing up. They hold the key to the solution of this problem: protecting the rights of the citizens of Maryland to participate in the harvesting of natural resources from the Chesapeake Bay rather than focusing on the protection of private companies creating artificial oysters.

Over the past several years, the Commonwealth of Virginia has been leading the way in successful replenishment of oyster populations. And guess how they’re doing it? By implementing the exact same plan we used in Maryland for more than 40 years, even using the dredge that was created here specifically for that program. Why don’t we currently use these successful methods? Because ENGO’s lobbied to kill our seed and shell program in 2006.

I also find It shameful that some Marylanders are promoting the aquaculture industry with absolutely no consideration for the heritage represented by the commercial fishery. Take a look at the Great Seal of the State of Maryland: on the left is a plow man, more commonly known as a farmer, and on the right is a fisherman, more commonly known as a waterman. I cannot believe that so many ENGOs and aquaculturists are actually promoting the privatization and abuse of our natural resources at the cost of killing an industry upon which our great State of Maryland was founded. How can they look at that State seal and not be totally ashamed of what they’re doing? The simple answer is: money, money, money!! Stop the gravy train and watch what happens. Perhaps it’s the low cost and the lack of federal dollars to grab that’s the real issue with the Manokin River project.

We here at the Delmarva Fisheries Association look forward to working with the Department of Natural Resources over the next several years to help bring the oysters back properly. Think about it – when you build a house, you don’t hire a car salesman. When you restore oysters, you don’t hire a market analyst. Trust watermen, we live and breathe the Bay and we rely on our lifeblood being healthy!

The ‘Red Herring’ Strikes Again 7-30-2018
Last week’s storms have brought renewed attention to one of the biggest threats to the health of the Chesapeake Bay: the Conowingo Reservoir. For years, many environmental groups have downplayed the threat posed by the accumulated garbage behind the Conowingo Dam, calling it a “red herring” (from CBF in 2012) and pointing to farmers and watermen as the greater threat to the Bay. Denial and downplaying are becoming much harder in the face of last week’s rain and Exelon’s same old response: open the spill gates (aka flush) and dump shock loading amounts of sediment, phosphorus, nitrogen and debris into the Bay, undoing millions of dollars of restoration work in one foul blow.

Governor Hogan and his Administration are stepping up to the plate and addressing this enormous problem head-on, the first Maryland Governor in recent history to do so. He has imposed conditions on the Water Quality Certification (WQC) that Exelon needs in order to renew their operating license through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and invested in a pilot dredging project to explore beneficial re-use of the material sitting above the Dam. And how are some environmental groups responding? They’re suing the Administration for “not doing enough.”

What a load of hooey! All of the sudden these disturbing images of the sediment plume, the debris fouling boats, and the dead dolphins are great for fundraising and so these group are suddenly up in arms. They should have been up in arms since Hurricane Agnes or Tropical Storm Lee! Had they gotten on board then, we might already be piping that junk to Aberdeen to mitigate shore erosion or selling some of it for aggregate. Instead we’re bemoaning a new wave of havoc on the submerged aquatic grasses and the millions of baby oysters planted in the Bay over the last few weeks. This represents millions of dollars down the drain and yet somehow the prevailing sentiment is still that it’s “too expensive” to dredge above the dam. I ask you, how expensive is it to flush millions down the proverbial toilet? Because that’s what happens when Exelon opens up 17 spill gates and the water rushes through at nearly 400,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) as the USGS reported it did on July 26th.

Delmarva Fisheries Association (DFA), together with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition (CCC), has been, and will continue to be, on the forefront of addressing the Conowingo Factor. We have not waivered on our position regarding the Dam since our inception. The bottom line is that we cannot continue to sit idly by while these scouring events destroy the Bay. It must be dredged now in order to regain it’s helpful role as a trap of upstream pollutants. This is a stop-gap measure while Pennsylvania and New York work to implement needed management practices to reduce the pollution to the Susquehanna. This is not an “either/or” proposition. There is no doubt PA and NY are lagging behind pollution reduction goals. Any steps they take today will take some time to actually make an impact on the problem. Meanwhile, the Bay is bearing the brunt of decades of steps that weren’t taken and one more major storm event could set us back years, negating the positive results we’ve seen re: SAVs and oyster restoration this summer.

Will the environmental groups finally engage with us in this conversation or will they continue to pick the low-hanging fruit, cherry-picking causes whenever something disturbing enough happens that gives them a fundraising campaign image to raise more money to maintain the status quo? The hard-working watermen and many local government officials are willing to stand up and say, “Enough!” We invite the public to join us as we continue to dedicate resources to tackling the ticking time bomb at the top of the Bay, before the entire estuary is a giant dead zone and what we love so much about the Eastern Shore is permanently ruined.

A Unified Front is Needed to Represent the Commercial Industry in the Battle for the Bay 6-6-18
Recently, DFA has been closely monitoring a contentious aquaculture lease application for 14-acres in the Honga River off Wroten Island at the mouth of Wheatly Point Cove. It so happens that the lease applicants were charged with several counts of accessing the proposed lease area and setting gear before the lease was approved by DNR. After a court hearing most charges were dismissed and one charge was placed on the “Stet” (inactive) docket. This is a hand slap on the lease applicants compared to the repercussions that would result from a similar violation in the commercial oyster fishery, where such a violation by a waterman would likely result in the revocation of his license to work on the water. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? When it comes to protecting our natural resources, there should be equal enforcement.

Conflicts between private aquaculture leases and the public oyster fishery abound, especially where the private lease areas encroach upon public shellfish areas and Bay bottom where watermen and County Oyster Committees have invested in shell and/or seed. Where was the consideration and protection of the commercial fishery in the Honga River when this controversial lease application was processed? Early in the process, an organization that claims to represent commercial watermen and one that claims to represent oystermen registered protests against the lease application, but neither organization followed up with substantive arguments against the lease application and both failed to show up at the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to make the case for the commercial fishery. Alone at the administrative hearing to contest the lease was the owner of Wroten Island, whose chief concerns are the adverse impacts of a water column lease and related activities on waterfowl resting areas, hunting activites and riparian habitats. With no representative of the commercial watermen at the hearing, the ALJ decided in favor of the lease applicant.

In my opinion, it is unfair to fault Maryland DNR, the Governor or any of his staff for this aquaculture lease being approved in Honga River. Yes, it’s the wrong location for a private lease – but Maryland DNR is operating inside the bounds of the law set forth by the Maryland General Assembly to promote aquaculture and private leasing throughout the Bay and its tributaries (Natural Resources Article of the Maryland Code, Title 4, Subtitle 11A). Additionally, the commercial industry (especially those organizations that claimed to represent the industry) failed in this case to represent their interests and concerns during the process allowed for challenging the lease.

Would there have been a different outcome if the watermen had been properly and fully represented in their original request to protest the lease? I say YES, because the concerns are legitimate, and the lease applicants have proven themselves to be scofflaws. It remains a mystery why two organizations that claim to represent Maryland watermen and the industry abandoned their initial protests, clearing the way for the lease to be approved.

To avoid similar situations throughout the Bay, we need to take responsibility for properly representing our interests as new lease applications are under consideration by DNR. We also need to act within the rules for protesting and challenging. At the same time, we need to be unified in advocating for changes to Maryland’s private leasing and aquaculture laws to better ensure that the rights and interests of those whose livelihoods depend on the fisheries are considered. Right now, the scales appear to be heavily weighted in favor of private leasing at the expense of the public fisheries.

Let’s stop pointing the finger at the Hogan Administration and DNR and instead find common ground so we can work together for the protection and sustainability of our Chesapeake Bay seafood industry.

Mother Nature Makes the Best Substrate and Shame on “Environmental” Groups for Suggesting Otherwise 3-5-18
After what felt like a long winter, things are finally getting wound up in the place everybody loves to be:  Annapolis, Maryland.  Last Tuesday, February 27, Senate Bill 926 was heard in front of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.  Sponsored by Senator Steve Hershey, SB 926 will give priority to the use of natural oyster shell and prevent non-indigenous “alternative” material from being used in the Chesapeake Bay as substrate for oyster replenishment without testing.  In layman’s terms:  if it didn’t come out of the Bay, it shouldn’t go into the Bay.

The hearing was well-attended by representatives of both the commercial seafood industry and those purporting to be on the environmental side.  While you might think that a bill of this nature would be supported by both those that rely on the Bay for their livelihood, and those that claim to want a clean Bay, you’d be wrong.  The “environmental side” comprised of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), and some other members of the latest “10 Billion Oysters Partnership” flat out oppose this bill. They seem to think dumping rock, broken up brick, ground up concrete, and assorted other junk is better than the native oyster shell that exists already.  What are they thinking?  In the past, some of these same groups have contested rubble landfills that are miles from the Chesapeake Bay, stating that the leaching from such rubble waste could wind up contaminating Bay waters.  But when it comes to pots of grant funding tied to oyster restoration and building fake reefs in sanctuaries with taxpayer money, these groups are perfectly ok with dumping such materials directly into the Bay and its tributaries.

During the hearing, as expected, the issue of dredging shell from Man O’War Shoal in the upper Bay came up.  The enormous natural oyster shell deposits at Man O’War Shoal and in other parts of the upper Bay completely undermines the manufactured “no shell available” crisis that is stoked by organizations hostile to the commercial fishery.  Our panel in support of SB926 was questioned by the Vice-Chairman who cited different studies suggesting that natural shell was not the least expensive substrate of choice in oyster restoration (we explained that when the handling and transportation costs of alternative materials are considered, natural indigenous shell is the most cost-effective).

After I testified, I stayed for a few minutes and listened to the opposition’s testimony to the Senate Committee. I felt sick to my stomach as I listened to these so-called environmentalists call for a plan to dump solid waste on the bottom of the Bay as substrate for oysters. The CBF representative even stated that this junk is better than shell.  A representative of Morgan State University testified that is a “myth” that oyster shell is the best substrate…ground up concrete and construction waste is better, he said.   Are these people serious?  We all know that oysters will strike on anything available that is hard and clean, even golf balls and spark plugs; but the watermen of Maryland have not contacted the PGA or Champion auto parts to get their waste materials to build reefs.  We prefer the real thing. Oyster shell naturally occurs in the Bay for a reason.  Contrary to the agenda put forth by the opposition to SB926, the designs of Mother Nature should not to be ignored, or bypassed.

Since oyster harvesting started in the 1800’s, natural shell from Maryland has been used as substrate in the industry.  For 40+ years we even had a very successful program of relocating shells, in partnership with the State of Maryland.  But in 2006, that replenishment program was halted by the objections of the same people who want this construction debris dumped in the Bay.  In spite of the obvious lessons to be learned from the problems and controversy over the alternative substrate materials used in the Choptank River complex, they want to expand their technique of covering our Bay bottom (including viable natural oyster bars) with junk.

What’s difficult about engaging in this conversation is the awareness that common sense has been thrown out the window. Native oyster shell has been called the best substrate available by the federal government and many other organizations over the years. Yet suddenly these environmental groups are advocating for dumping waste in the water, instead of re-locating naturally occurring material. Why this change of heart? Perhaps the answer lies in donation records. Unfortunately, while organizations are required to disclose the names of their largest donors to the IRS, they can choose to redact the names from the public version of their 990. But we all know that when big money gets thrown at issues, nonprofits can be tempted to engage in mission drift. On the other hand, the watermen still fight the good fight even though we aren’t backed by deep pockets. Some of us seem to fight harder than others, and that’s because we don’t roll over to these quasi environmentalists, and we can’t be bought.  Plain, simple and to the point.  Stand tall and strong my brothers and sisters in the seafood industry, and hold your heads high as we press on for what’s right in the Bay…

To view Captain Rob at the Senate Hearing on SB 926, click here.

To see DFA’s written testimony in support of this bill, click here.

Menhaden Bait Fishery Gets a Boost – Facts Matter 11-15-17

This week the ASMFC Menhaden Management Board held a two-day meeting in Baltimore, Maryland to consider allocation decisions under Amendment 3.  At the meeting, the Board voted 16 to 2 to adopt Option B for Ecological Reference Points (ERPs) and voted 16 to 2 to defeat Option E, which would have unfairly reallocated quotas already assigned to states.  As stated by the ASMFC’s Technical Group, Option E stood the chance of wiping out the brood stock of menhaden, and yet this option was wholeheartedly supported by the CBF and the CCA – and was justly defeated.  Even a last minute effort by these ENGO’s to cap the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) at 200,000  metric tons for two years was defeated by a vote of 15 to 3 – another resounding defeat for the ENGO’s committed to reducing the ranks of commercial fishermen.  On Tuesday, the Board set the TAC at 216,000 metric tons – an 8℅ increase – and a Chesapeake Bay cap at 51 million pounds for the reduction fishery.  That was another 15 to 3 vote.  Also, 40 million pounds will be disbursed coastwise to several states.  This poundage can be traded or used as necessary.  Also approved was the “bycatch” allowance on menhaden for the bait industry in Maryland at 12,000 lbs per day.  In all, Maryland’s bait fishery came out on top, and in great shape.  More fish is what they wanted and needed, and deserved!  Maryland DNR did an excellent job in helping the menhaden fishermen get more fish; which in turn will boost fishing communities and local economies.

On the other hand, the CBF and CCA took it on the chin, and deservedly so.   These two organizations have constantly, over the past several years, peddled mass misinformation to the citizens of Maryland concerning menhaden.  At the ASMFC meeting in Baltimore the truth (real science) was presented and the outcome was evident…A MAJOR DEFEAT OF THEIR ANTI-COMMERCIAL FISHERIES AGENDA.  These groups need to stop shoveling the manure, and start being honest to their dues paying members.  They and their counterparts receive millions of dollars to put good working people out of business by manufacturing deceptive environmental conditions and crises,  and by convincing politicians that the way to help is with more regulations on the industries they have targeted with all the blame.  People that operate this way are commonly known as charlatans.   Here’s the bottom line:  if we use peer-reviewed science to generate the facts, and stop politicizing our natural resources, and be honest in our agenda, we win hands down.  If not, you get what happened to the ENGOs leading the charge at the ASMFC meeting in Baltimore.

Capt. Rob

CBF Movie about the “most important fish in the sea”  10-27-17

This week – on October 23rd in the evening – the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) presented a movie at the library in Chestertown called “The Most Important Fish In The Sea.”  As billed, this movie is all about the importance of menhaden in the ecosystem of the bays and oceans.  Most if not all the information presented in this movie is now antiquated and all the facts about menhaden have been rewritten.  In attendance for the public viewing representing CBF were the organization’s Eastern Shore Director and Senior Scientist.  Both of these gentlemen grossly misrepresented the facts on menhaden in the industry, used “science” that has been found to be flawed, and misrepresented many other items concerning menhaden in the Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay.  It was evident that their reason for being there was not for protecting or cleaning up the waters of the Chesapeake Bay (remember “Save the Bay”); it was instead a promotion of CBF’s anti-commercial fishing agenda and a fundraiser for that agenda from the people in the room.  During the question and comment period, Delmarva Fisheries Association made comments and ask questions refuting just about all of the statements that they had made on menhaden. They answered the questions properly and admitted that they had not been forthcoming with the facts. After DFA went toe-to-toe with the Senior Scientist and basically exposed all of his misleading comments, CBF’s Eastern Shore Director abruptly ended the question and comment period.  DFA made it clear to everybody in the room that the commercial seafood industry’s position is not necessarily a bad one, and they all agreed. Several people in the room asked this question CBF’s Eastern Shore Director: “Why are we here, and what are you going to do?” His only answer was, “We want to use the sign-up sheet with all your information on it and your email address to send our letter to the ASMSC [Atlantic State’s Marine Fisheries Commission] in support of our agenda concerning menhaden.”  All but one person in attendance disagreed and would not let them do this.

In summary, these two gentlemen with the CBF came to Kent County with a pretty movie and a handful of stale and flawed science – hoping to leave with a bagful of donations to fund their anti-commercial fisherman agenda and a sign-up sheet to inflate to ASMFC the support for their agenda.   Fortunately, the majority of those in the crowd were not so gullible, and seemed to appreciate that DFA was there in attendance to give perspective on the industry’s position.

Capt. Rob

Acidic Water…..Really?  10-18-17

As we continue marching down the road trying to address the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and restoration of shellfish in the Bay, once again a new monster has risen its head.  No, it’s not Chessie or Physteria (Hysteria), it’s the reported increase of acidic water in the Bay. Really? Again, we’re seeing a new study creating a pandemic like scare for ENGOs to use as a fundraising tool to clean the pockets of those concerned with the Bay’s health. Certain groups are saying that the decrease of pH in the Bay waters may harm the production of shells by oysters. One cannot help but the look back in history from the 1950s to current date and realize one thing – wasn’t there a problem with acidic water prior to them doing this study? Most certainly.  Water acidity is increased by carbon dioxide and wastewater discharge being absorbed by saltwater, thus lowering the pH, or making the water more acidic. Prior to this study, you had massive industrial pollution coming from areas in Baltimore City, Sparrows Point, and other areas in Baltimore County. Industrial giants emitted tons of carbon dioxide and wastewater into the Bay and the atmosphere that was absorbed by the water of the Chesapeake Bay.  But if this is detrimental to the shell production of oysters, why do we have any left? The pollution levels during this time were off the charts, but the oysters survived.  From the period of 1960 to 2008, there were 59 million bushels of oysters harvested from the Bay. There were two catastrophic hurricanes during this time that affected sediment levels in the Bay, but the oysters still survived. This time frame was during the Maryland DNR program referred to as the oyster replenishment program.  So, science tells us that the pollution levels from carbon emissions and wastewater where higher during that time, but our oysters remained resilient.  So why the big concern now?  Watching a recent news report on this matter, certain organizations that are involved with our supposedly successful oyster restoration program are very concerned. As they should be. This gives them (the architects and evaluators of the restoration program) the perfect outlet of an excuse to explain why the product they are producing and putting on these restoration areas is not meeting their expressed expectations.  Also, it gives certain ENGOs the green light to drain the pockets of the good citizens of Maryland for another one of their Chesapeake Bay clean up initiatives.  People, when are you going to realize acidity in the Bay has been happening for hundreds of years, and Mother Nature seems to be handling this pretty well on her own.  We know that certain groups are constantly looking for more causes to generate alarm and money.  Why don’t we do the most important thing we need to do – address the main point source pollution problems in the Chesapeake Bay.  This is the dumping of millions of gallons of untreated human and industrial waste into the Bay by municipalities on the Western Shore.  The established ENGOs need to address this problem, and stop picking the low-hanging fruit from the citizens of Maryland.  With the hundreds of millions of dollars these ENGOs have, you would think they would use their assets to address the real problems.  But they don’t. They just keep getting more money from people that they are able to convince that there is this “new” major problem that only they can solve. Let them step up to the plate, go after these large Western Shore municipalities, and watch what happens. Their fundraising efforts will dry up because they rely on these municipalities to help move forward their agenda politically (such as regulating septic tanks, which is harmful to rural economies where many watermen live).  What a shame. After 40 years, and hundreds of millions of dollars, things should be better, but they’re not. Maybe it’s time for a new approach to the problem and stop politicizing the issue and deal with a hard reality of pollution. Stop dumping untreated human and industrial waste into the Bay. This is illegal, and these people should pay huge fines that should be earmarked to go to programs better geared towards water quality, and not fatten the pockets of those ENGOs.

Capt. Rob

 

Striped Bass Dilemma  9-29-17

After three years of pursuing the 20-inch striped bass size limit, a decent fisherman has to ask the question, “What the heck are we doing killing all these good fish?”

Since the spring of 2013, the 20-inch size limit has been in effect on striped bass. Fishermen have been “culling” through 18 and 19-inch fish to get their 20-inch legal fish. Many fishermen are saying that they have to catch as many as fifteen fish to keep one legal fish. Some fishermen say as many as twenty to one. So what happens to the discarded fish? Well, the majority of these discarded fish die. Especially in the summer when the water is very warm and the fishing pressure is at its greatest level. Now, here’s the problem: the majority of these returned fish are 18 to 19.5 inches. These are legal-size fish under commercial law, but they must be returned, or “culled” thru, to comply with the law on recreational and charter boats. These fish die and go to waste.

What is our DNR doing about this waste? After many letters of concern from DFA and a meeting of those in this industry, they finally admit it is not working. At their own admittance, hundreds of thousands of fish have been wasted that could have been kept under the previous regulations and that are legal to the commercial fisherman now.

So what are we going to do about this major “faux-pas” of a Fishery Management Plan (FMP)? Well, it’s very simple. Go back to the 18-inch fish. We have totally botched the conservation equivalence method for three years, the fish haven’t gone into extinction, and we have saved the year class of fish that we set out to protect. So the FMP that DNR submitted to ASMFC hasn’t worked. To err is human people, and stepping up and saying, “We screwed this one up” does not make you a fool. After all, you were told this would not work from the start and you were notified all along of the massive die off of marketable fish as a result of the size limit. It’s time to “right the wrong” boys. Let’s all stand up to the ASMFC in October!  Tell them their FMP was no good, the fish are fine, and we are going back to the 18-inch striper. If they don’t like our approach, too bad. Let’s take back control of our Maryland State fish, do what we know is good for the fish, and stop politicizing our natural resource. I am sure the Secretary of the Department of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, will agree with Maryland on this one.  It’s time for our DNR to show some strong leadership and do what is right for the fish, and to stop playing the political game that is not working so well now. Maryland cannot afford to sit back and watch.  Let us take the lead, hold our heads up high, and do what is right for our natural resource:  the Striped Bass of Maryland.

Capt. Rob Newberry

 

 

 

 

 
 

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