Under Governor Glendening's leadership, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), together with our sister State agencies and the Pfiesteria Technical Advisory Committee, has developed a four-level response strategy that, first and most importantly, protects public health; and second, furthers our understanding of how activities on the land may be contributing to toxic outbreaks of Pfiesteria in our waterways.

LEVEL I: Rapid Response

Due to the documented impacts of Pfiesteria outbreaks to human health, our highest priority is to rapidly identify toxic outbreaks and protect the public from exposure. To meet this need, we have set in place a statewide system to quickly gather information, evaluate suspected outbreaks, and recommend river closures if warranted. In brief, the rapid response system operates as follows:

  • Reports of fish lesions or kills are received by the Fish Health Hotline (1-888-584-3110) or through other communications channels. The Hotline is staffed 24 hours-a-day by trained operators.
  • Information collected by the Hotline is reviewed by a fish biologist daily, and reports that warrant further investigation are identified. (The causes of fish lesions and fish kills are many, and we cannot respond to every reported instance. We are confident that we know enough about the effects of Pfiesteria on fish populations to accurately identify potential outbreaks through this system, and to direct our resources accordingly.)
  • Rapid response teams of biologists and water quality technicians are dispatched to suspected outbreaks as quickly as possible.
  • The water body is evaluated in light of the Governor's "Protocol for Closing and Reopening Rivers Affected by Pfiesteria or Pfiesteria-like Events."
  • If the situation meets the above criteria, the Secretary of DNR will advise the Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene who will work with county health officers to determine closure boundaries, notify local officials, and close the affected water body.
  • The closed water body will be monitored daily until the closure criteria have not been met for 14 days, at which point the water body will be reopened.

LEVEL II: Comprehensive Assessment of Affected Rivers

Much information was collected by the Departments of Natural Resources, Environment, and Agriculture last year on the three affected Lower Eastern Shore rivers (the Pocomoke, Manokin/Kings Creek and Chicamacomico) and their watersheds.

While this data has proven invaluable in identifying the relationships between man's activities on the land and the risk of toxic Pfiesteria outbreaks, much more remains to be understood. We are intensively monitoring watershed activities, water quality, Pfiesteria and fish health on these systems.

LEVEL III: Comprehensive Assessment of Selected Rivers

Pfiesteria probably exists in a non-toxic form throughout much of Chesapeake Bay and the coastal bays. It is valuable, for both the protection of public health and to further our understanding of the environmental dynamics contributing to toxic outbreaks, to monitor fish health, water quality, and Pfiesteria before outbreaks occur.

Although we understand the general relationship between water quality and toxic outbreaks, we, unfortunately, do not yet understand it well enough to predict outbreaks. Since we cannot intensively monitor every water body in the State, we must use the best science available to date to help identify waterways for early monitoring.

We have selected several tributaries for comprehensive assessment this year that appear most similar (in terms of water quality and physical dynamics) to the Pocomoke River: the Nanticoke, Big Anemessex and Eastern Shore Wicomico. We are also assessing two coastal bay tributaries: St. Martin and Newport Bay. We are monitoring the health of the fish communities on these systems every two weeks April through November. Furthermore, we will measure water quality parameters at approximately 12 sites on each system monthly April through October.

This comprehensive assessment will provide two major benefits. First, should Pfiesteria outbreaks occur, this intensive monitoring will help us minimize human impacts by identifying the outbreaks early. Second, regardless of whether outbreaks occur, the data collected will help tremendously in refining our understanding of the water quality factors that contribute to toxic outbreaks.

LEVEL IV: Statewide Assessments

Maryland DNR currently conducts several fish stock assessment and water quality monitoring programs throughout the State. Included among these are the striped bass juvenile survey, the coastal bays finfish monitoring program, and several fishery dependent stock assessment programs. These programs, while not as intensive as the Levels II and III monitoring described above, will be used to keep an eye on fish health statewide and alert us to problems should they occur. If fish health problems are identified, more intensive work will be initiated in those areas.

Rapid Response to Outbreaks

Any tributary as needed

Previously closed tributaries

Risk Assessment of Selected Tributaries-

5 identified tributaries plus 2 others to be determined

Existing Programs

Chesapeake Bay WQ Monitoring (Baywide)
Fisheries Surveys (Baywide)

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