As the days get shorter, hunters and anglers across the Delmarva Peninsula get ready for fall hunting and fishing seasons. The tug of a trophy striper off Bloody Point or a flock of Canada geese setting down into a decoy spread will get the blood of Eastern Shore sportsmen and women pumping faster, and the anticipation for a productive autumn afield is building across the region.
Hunting and fishing aren’t just hobbies on the Eastern Shore, they represent a way of life that has helped to define what it means to ‘cross the bridge,’ both literally and figuratively. Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver for Delmarva. A duck hunter who launches his boat at Kent Narrows pays the county to use the facilities, fuels his boat up at the local gas station, gets the ethanol build-up knocked off his outboard at the small engine repair shop, and of course buys a hunting license that funds important conservation work all across the region. He buys ice and lunch at the corner deli, and when the day is done relaxes with friends at the local watering hole.
Taken in total, Delmarva hunters and anglers contribute more than $1.5 billion dollars to the economy annually, and support thousands of jobs. Yet in the discussion of creating jobs, or even protecting the ones we already have, outdoor recreation is unfortunately often missing from the conversation.
How can policy makers at all levels ensure that the future of hunting and fishing is bright? One great step in the right direction would be to restore the water quality of the Chesapeake and her creeks, rivers, and wetlands by continuing to move forward on the development and execution of the Watershed Implementation Plans. These plans, often referred to as a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay, set necessary goals for reducing harmful runoff into the Chesapeake watershed. They present the clearest way forward in a generation of Bay efforts.
Elected officials and interest groups have found it easy to bemoan the cost of the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet. Restoring the Bay has costs. But the costs of inaction are more severe than anyone anticipates. As water quality continues to degrade, the impact on commercial and recreational fisheries, hunting, boating, and other forms of economically important outdoor pursuits will be substantial. When we talk about cleaning up the Chesapeake and restoring water quality, it isn’t just conservation for conservation’s sake. But an integral part of the Eastern Shore’s economic well-being.
Steve Kline is the Director of the Center for Agricultural Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. An avid waterfowl hunter, he lives in Centreville.