At the SRA’s now famous “2016 Report Card” unveiling, waterman Sam Joiner and waterman/painter Marc Castelli put on a fascinating program about the life of a Commercial Pound Netter. The audience and I were impressed at how much work and expense goes into just one of the nets, which can be recognized in the river by a long line of stakes with a large circle of stakes on the channel end of the construction.
They then presented us with pictures of the overwhelming variety of fish they have caught in their nets. There were over twenty species of fish represented in their demonstration - from the expected varieties like rockfish, white and yellow perch, and catfish, to many types that we didn’t expect. Sam and Marc have caught pickerel, pike, lamprey eels, sturgeon, gold fish (yes, 12”-14” bright orange goldfish!), and many other species in their Sassafras River nets.
Preceding the presentation by the watermen, your SassafrasRIVERKEEPER™ introduced the 2016 Report Card. The news was good, as the average grade for the watershed rose from a “C” to a “C+”.
We use the Mid-Atlantic Tributary Assessment Coalition protocols and procedures, as do most organizations around the Bay. Our sampling, both on the river and at our non-tidal sites around the watershed, is analyzed immediately for temperature, conductivity, salinity (amount of salt), pH (level of acidity), dissolved oxygen, and turbidity (clarity). Nitrogen, phosphorus, and chlorophyll-a are stabilized and later analyzed at the University of Delaware.
The tidal grades, averaged over the 7 sites on the river increased slightly for the first time since 2010. Even better news resulted from our non-tidal sites, which are sampled in small streams that run into the creeks that feed into the river. The grades at those sites have been dropping steadily for many years, but during the year 2014, and again in 2015, there was a higher score at thirteen of the sixteen sites.
What are the reasons for the incrementally better water quality? It’s evident that you and I are making a difference. We, the homeowner, the farmer, the boater, the marina owner, the gardener, the fisherman, the retiree and the student, are changing our ways and activities a little at a time as we continue to learn about how we affect our water by our daily living. More and more, we realize that the health of our water directly affects the health of our families and neighbors.
In addition, the Best Management Practices (BMPs) that have been implemented by local farmers have made a real difference in the amount of sediment and nutrients going into the river during rain storms. Installing grass waterways and vegetative buffers, no-till cultivating, planting cover crops, following nutrient management plans, and using GPS for accurate fertilizer application are some of the ways farmers have helped to clean the Sassafras.
The rain barrels, soil test workshops, rain gardens, treatment wetlands, stream and gully restorations, shoreline restorations, and education programs by your Sassafras River Association are all making incremental improvements in our watershed. Our science-based water quality monitoring program is an integral part of our dedication to accurate, dependable results.
We are also fortunate to be blessed by the interest and assistance of local residents and visitors to our river. Compared to many rivers, we have a small population from which to draw support, but our supporters are true believers that we can bring about a cleaner, healthier river. And as we see from our 2016 Report Card, together we are making a difference.
Thank you sincerely for your support, and I’ll see you on the river.
Capt. Emmett Duke