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Bay Health

Scientists evaluate the Chesapeake Bay’s health by monitoring important habitats, fish and shellfish, and water quality measures. These indicators are useful tools to gauge the overall health of the Bay and the animals that live in it.

The Bay’s health has slowly improved in some areas. However, the ecosystem remains in poor condition. The Bay continues to have polluted water, degraded habitats, and low populations of many fish and shellfish species.

Habitats and Lower Food Web

Overall, the Bay’s habitats and lower food web remain far below what is needed to support thriving populations of underwater life.

  • Bay Grasses: In 2015, there were an estimated 91,621 acres of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay, achieving 49 percent of the 185,000-acre goal.
  • Bottom Habitat: In 2014, 59 percent of the Chesapeake Bay met the bottom habitat goal, scoring at least a three on the one-to-five Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity scale.
  • Tidal Wetlands: As of 2010, there were approximately 282,291 acres of tidal wetlands in the Bay region.

Fish and Shellfish

Many of the Bay’s fish and shellfish populations are suffering due to pollution, diseases, overharvesting and lack of food and habitat.

  • Blue Crabs: Between 2015 and 2016, the abundance of adult female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay increased 92 percent from 101 million to 194 million. 
  • Oysters: A new oyster health indicator will be developed in the future.
  • Adult Striped Bass: Female striped bass spawning stock biomass measured 128 million pounds in 2012.
  • Juvenile Striped Bass: In 2015, the relative abundance of juvenile striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay increased. In Maryland, the juvenile abundance index rose from 4.06 to 10.67. In Virginia, the abundance index rose from 11.37 to 12. 
  • American Shad: In 2016, the abundance of American shad in the Chesapeake Bay reached 38 percent of the goal.
  • Atlantic Menhaden: The relative abundance of adult menhaden along the Atlantic coast has climbed steadily over the last decade. Abundance reached a 25-year peak Northern Adult Index value of 1.97 in 2012 but fell to a value of 0.98 in 2013. 

Water Quality

The Bay’s water quality remains very poor. Too much pollution flows to the Bay and its streams, creeks and rivers.

  • Water Quality Standards Achievement: Results of the 2013-2015 assessment period indicate that 37 percent of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries met water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, water clarity/underwater grasses and chlorophyll during this time.
  • Chemical Contaminants: Based on the 2012 303(d) assessments of 92 tidal segments analyzed 74 percent had partial or full impairments due to chemical contaminants.
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