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Year-End Update 2018

President’s Message – Jay Martin

On NPR years ago I heard an interview with a man whose mother had immigrated to the United States from Russia in the 1920’s. She became an activist for human rights issues, and she described three levels of activism:

Imagine yourself standing on a river shore enjoying the serenity and beauty of your surroundings when suddenly a torrent of people come rushing down the river drowning in the turbulent water.

  • Our first level of response could be to scream how horrible this tragedy is and wonder what we could do to save them.

  • On the second level of activism we could try to find help to save as many people as possible.

  • The third level of response would be to go upriver and stop whoever is throwing them in the river.

Obviously the third level is most effective, but all three levels are necessary in their own way. And we could add a fourth level, as described by Buckminster Fuller: “You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something build a better model and make the existing obsolete”. I have tried to frame my farming career around this idea.

We are all called to action on some level and to do whatever our abilities and resources allow us to effect change in a positive direction. We welcome any suggestions or comments you may have. Contact me at 410-873-2942 or or Judith (newsletter editor) at 410-873-2091 or


The Friends lose a wonderful Friend

On Christmas Day, 2018, Michael Pretl, President of the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance, died from a heart attack. He was a long-time board member of the Friends, as well as of numerous other local environmental organizations. He was a tireless advocate for the environment and for many progressive causes, and he gave generously of his time in pro bono legal work on behalf of many of these groups.

Mike lived on the Nanticoke, in Riverton, and was a true steward of the river, serving also as a Nanticoke Creekwatcher. Mike’s legacy extends beyond the Eastern Shore, however. He came to the shore after a long and very valuable career as an advocacy lawyer in Baltimore. Most of all, he embodied activism, as described above, on all levels.

We will forever be indebted to him for all he has done, and he will not be forgotten. Mike’s obituary may be found here: pretl-20181228-story.html. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his wife, Michele Hughes, and the rest of his family.

Atlantic Sturgeon Update

The Nanticoke River appears to be nurturing a small and intriguing population of Atlantic Sturgeon. Sturgeon were once extremely plentiful in Chesapeake Bay, with over 700,000 lbs. recorded caught in the 1890s. Overharvesting and habitat loss led to a population decline of over 90% and a fishing moratorium along the Atlantic Coast was put in place in 1998. The last spawning sturgeon were documented in the Nanticoke River in 1972, and the species was federally listed as endangered in 2012. This listing means that catching or possessing the fish in the Chesapeake is prohibited. There is much to learn about the species, apparently. Restocking was implemented in 1995, but those fish are now thought to have been too old to “imprint” on the river and did not return. A Chesapeake Bay-wide bounty program begun in 1996 yielded 2,000 fish, but genetic testing demonstrated that these fish were just migrating through the Bay. However, In 2014, Maryland biologists caught 8 mature fish ready to spawn in Marshyhope Creek, and since then, 27 total adults have been caught in the Nanticoke River, and one was 7 1⁄2 ft long and weighed 180 lbs. The search for the fish had been limited to spring, when other anadromous fish spawn, but the reproductive sturgeon were caught in the fall, another surprise for the fishery. It is exciting to think that our river might hold the key to restoring the population of this ancient species, which lives up to 60 years, has bony armor instead of scales, and is the largest and longest-lived fish in the Chesapeake.

Another Nanticoke River Catch

If the sturgeon is the prize of the Nanticoke, the northern snakehead may be its booby prize. This fish, native to China, has invaded many tributaries of the Chesapeake and has been caught even on the lower Nanticoke (thanks to Friends member John Motsko for his report).

This fish is prolific, spawning after age 2 several times a year. The heavy rains this summer may have aided its dispersal downstream. Although it prefers freshwater, it has a wide tolerance of environmental conditions, also including temperature. If you catch a snakehead, do not release it into the river, but do take it home and cook it; they are known to be delicious!

Nanticoke River Oyster Sanctuary

to receive first restoration efforts since 2010

The Nanticoke River historically had a very productive oyster fishery. The Nanticoke Seafood company (located in Nanticoke) was formed originally to process live shellfish. As with elsewhere on the Chesapeake, overharvesting and disease took their toll on the fishery, and landings have declined to less than 1% of historic levels. The Nanticoke River Oyster Sanctuary was created in 2010 and encompasses 16,699 acres, including 19 historic oyster bars. Approximately 47% of the bottom has been classified as oyster reef habitat. Before the sanctuary was established, approximately 199,000 bushels of shell and 244,000 bushels of wild seed were planted to enhance the wild fishery, but the sanctuary has not received any active restoration efforts since that time.

This summer, Maryland DNR will contract with the Oyster Recovery Partnership to plant 70 million oyster spat on the sanctuary.

Nanticoke Watershed Alliance (NWA) Updates

The Nanticoke Watershed Alliance is looking forward to a year full of action. In the spring student artwork will be installed around storm drains to remind people that pollution on the streets get washed into our waterways. This summer we need help planting 600 trees in Delaware, and installing 5 rain gardens in Cambridge this fall. Visit for more information on these projects. And keep an eye out for the State of the Nanticoke, 1-day annual event to launch this year!

More on oysters and the NWA

Some of those oysters to be planted in the Nanticoke Sanctuary will come from spat grown in cages on the lower river. The Oyster Recovery Partnership and the NWA have enlisted 10 citizens in the Nanticoke-Tyaskin- Bivalve area to deploy cages of settled baby oysters along the river shore and tend them until spring, when they will be added to the ones delivered to the sanctuary. If you are interested in participating in this project for next year, contact Beth Wasden at the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance (

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