Posts Tagged 'sarah elfreth'

Legislative Re-cap: 90 Days in Annapolis

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Yesterday marked Sine Die, the adjournment of the General Assembly’s 2014 legislative session in Annapolis.

It has been a busy session, with 1,117 bills introduced in the House of Delegates and another 1,555 bills introduced in the Senate. Approximately one-third of those bills were passed before midnight and will eventually be signed into law by the Governor.

The National Aquarium’s Government Affairs team has been busy supporting a handful of select bills. Here is a brief look at how a few of our bills fared this session:

HB 118 | Task Force to Study the Impact of Ocean Acidification on State Waters – PASSED
The legislature gave final approval to a bill that will create a task force to analyze the potential effects of ocean acidification in State waters and State fisheries. This task force would report back to the General Assembly with recommendations on potential strategies to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification by 2015. The task force will consist of members from the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the National Aquarium as well as representatives from the watermen community, the Senate and the House of Delegates.

HB 296/SB 336 | Designation of New Wildlands – PASSED
Bills expanding State-designated wildlands from the current 29 areas to 38 areas (from 44,000 acres to 65,000 acres) passed both chambers and are now on the Governor’s desk. The bills seek to legally protect certain wilderness areas from development, cars and other impacts, which are legislative priorities for Governor Martin O’Malley.

$2.12 million allocated for National Aquarium in the Capital Budget
The legislature increased funding from what the Governor originally included in his Capital Budget ($1.5 million to $2.12 million) to fund critical infrastructure improvements and the renovation of the Aquarium’s Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit.

$474,601 allocated for National Aquarium’s Education Programs
The Governor level-funded the State Aided Institution (SAI) portion of the Maryland State Department of Education’s budget. The Aquarium will receive $474,601 toward education programs to help bring tens of thousands of Maryland schoolchildren, teachers and chaperones to the Aquarium completely free of charge.

Polluted Runoff Bills | DEAD IN COMMITTEE, Budget Language Added
Twenty different bills were introduced to repeal or weaken the 2012 stormwater law this legislative session – and none made if out of committee. Language was added to the budget that allows Maryland’s Department of the Environment to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Carroll or Frederick counties to establish an alternative source of funding for meeting their polluted runoff goals.

HB 913 | Food Fish and Shellfish: Labeling and Identification Requirements – DEAD IN COMMITTEE
A bill that would require restaurants and grocery stores to label seafood with the common name of fish/shellfish and prohibited mislabeling did not receive a vote in the House Environmental Matters Committee. The bill would also have required restaurants and grocery stores to identify the origin of a crab product by state or country of origin.

SB 394 | Statewide Container Recycling Refund Program – DEAD IN COMMITTEE
The bill would have established a fully refundable 5-cent container deposit on beverage containers sold in Maryland. The bill would also have established redemption centers across the State. If it had passed, the bill had the potential to increase Maryland’s recycling rate of beverage containers from 22 to 76 percent.

SB 707/HB 718 | Community Cleanup and Greening Act of 2014 – DEAD IN COMMITTEE
A bill that would have enabled county governments to pass county bag-fee laws that require retail and grocery stores to charge customers at least a 5-cent fee for paper and plastic bags did not receive a vote in either the House or Senate committees.

While this year’s legislative session in Maryland may be coming to a close, our Government Affairs team will be working diligently over the next 275 days to raise awareness and support for these important pieces of conservation legislation!

To stay updated on our efforts throughout the year, be sure to sign up for our legislative updates

sarah elfreth government affairs manager national aquarium

Happy Maryland Day!

government affairs and policy update

Every year on March 25th the Old Line State celebrates the rich history of all things Maryland. Did you know? It was on this day in 1634 that colonists ventured up the Chesapeake Bay and arrived on Maryland soil!

Here at the National Aquarium we take pride in our Maryland roots. 70,000 Maryland schoolchildren, teaches and chaperones visit the Aquarium every year. Hundreds of National Aquarium staff and volunteers work tirelessly to restore the Chesapeake Bay. And the seals, sea turtles, and whales that get stranded off of Ocean City and other Maryland  beaches? National Aquarium resumes, rehabilitates and releases them back into the wild.

But the Aquarium’s Maryland pride does not stop there – we also have a strong representation of Maryland animals throughout our exhibits, both species native to our coast and ones that rely on the calm waters of the Chesapeake Bay to survive.

Everyone is quick to recognize Maryland favorites like blue crabs and terrapins, but here are some not-so-obvious animals that can be seen in Maryland waters: 

Lined Seahorse

This pale yellow seahorse has dark lines across its head and body that help it camouflage into Bay grasses.

lined seahorse

This species of seahorse can be found year-round in the middle and lower regions of the Chesapeake Bay, extending north to regions such as Calvert County and Kent Island. While usually found amidst the grasses in the Bay’s shallow waters, they can also be seen clinging to ropes and crab pots.

Sandbar Shark

Usually found along the North American Atlantic coast, these stocky brownish sharks can be seen in the shallows of the middle and lower regions of the Bay in Summer and Fall.

Sandbar shark

These Chesapeake Bay visitors are usually large schools of juveniles, usually ranging only about 2-3-feet in size, however, spotting an adult 7-foot sandbar shark in the Bay would not be unheard of. The Bay has become one of the most important sandbar shark nursery areas on the East Coast and young sharks often feed on native blue crabs. The sharks prefer the protected waters and stay near the smooth sandy bottoms of the Bay before heading back into the southern waters when the weather gets cooler.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Adult loggerheads are common in the lower Bay from May to November, but can also be seen as far north as Kent Island during summer months.

Loggerhead turtle

They come to feed on blue crabs and horse crabs and to hatch their young. The lower Bay is an important growth area for young loggerheads before they are large and strong enough to make it back into the open ocean.

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins visit the lower and middle Chesapeake Bay in the summers, usually to Cape Charles and the James and Elizabeth Rivers.

dolphin count

They can go into fresh water for short periods and feed on a variety of the Bay’s fish, crabs, and other shellfish. You can find them traveling in pods ranging anywhere from 2 to 15 dolphins, staying in the Bay and rivers for a summer vacation before heading back to the open water when the weather gets cooler.

Cownose Ray

With a wingspan of up to 3 feet, cownose rays can also be found traveling in schools in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay during summer months.

national aquarium cownose ray

The schools traverse the lower and middle parts of the Bay, sometimes going as far north as Kent Island, from May to October, before heading back to southern coastal waters when autumn comes. They come to the Bay to search of oysters and clams and a safe place to mate in the late summer from June to July. The schools can be large and visible as they move through the Bay.

How are you celebrating Maryland Day? Tell us in the comments section! 

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Bill of the Week: Capital Budget

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Governor O’Malley submitted his Fiscal Year 2015 Capital Budget to the Maryland General Assembly in early January. The $4 billion Capital Budget includes nearly $700 million for public school and university construction, $450 million for projects such as land preservation and Chesapeake Bay restoration, and $2.5 billion for transportation projects.

The Governor’s Capital Budget also includes funding for the National Aquarium for the second year in a row. If approved by the General Assembly, the State’s $1.5 million will help the Aquarium address critical infrastructure needs while simultaneously redesigning the way we communicate the remarkable aquatic treasure just beyond the Aquarium’s walls: the Chesapeake Bay.

chesapeake bay watershed

Addressing these infrastructure pieces will allow us to completely re-imagine the way we communicate the unique beauty and diversity of the Bay. Interactive exhibits – both in the main Aquarium building and outside the Aquarium walls that reach the edges of Inner Harbor – will share the success stories of and challenges still facing one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures.

The exhibit will surely give the Aquarium’s 1.4 million annual visitors – the majority of whom reside within the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed – a sense of how water connects us all.

The General Assembly will be voting on the Capital Budget over the next few weeks. The 2014 legislative session adjourns on April 7th.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our legislative update emails and follow me on Twitter for real-time updates from Annapolis throughout session!

sarah elfreth government affairs manager national aquarium

Guest Post: Fighting Seafood Fraud Protects Our Health and the Environment

government affairs and policy update

Today’s post comes from Jillian Fry, PhD, MPH. She is the Director of the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. In her role, Jillian works to engage public health communities in research, communication, education, policy, and advocacy activities aiming to increase understanding of the public health implications of industrial aquaculture practices and to move toward more sustainable and responsible methods of production. 

In support of that important work, Jillian is a strong advocate here in Maryland for the fight against seafood fraud.

Are you getting the seafood you are paying for? Maybe not– an investigation by Oceana revealed last year that a third of seafood sampled in the U.S. was mislabeled. In an effort to reduce seafood fraud, The Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act was introduced in this year’s state legislative session, and I strongly support the bill due to the potential effects of mislabeled seafood on human health, fish populations, and the environment.

People choose the seafood species they eat based on many factors—how it tastes, health benefits, if it’s responsibly fished or farmed, and if it’s generally known to have low contaminant levels. Many seafood guides exist, such as the popular Seafood Watch from Monterey Bay Aquarium, to help consumers make choices about seafood, but efforts to educate consumers about safe and environmentally sustainable fish have a reduced impact if seafood is not accurately labeled.

monterey bay aquarium seafood watch

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide.

When purchasing wild-caught fish, consumers should seek species known to be from well-managed fisheries to avoid overfishing and bycatch concerns. In the case of farm-raised fish, it should be from an operation that avoids use of chemicals, antibiotics, high densities of fish, and feed made mostly from small fish caught in the ocean (this contributes to overfishing). In addition, certain fish carry advisories, especially for pregnant women and young children, to limit or avoid due to contamination of heavy metals or chemicals.

Oceana’s investigation found overfished species sold as fish from well managed fisheries (e.g., Atlantic halibut as Pacific halibut), farmed fish sold as wild-caught (e.g., farmed tilapia as red snapper), and fish with health advisories being sold as fish with no advisories (e.g., tilefish as red snapper and halibut).

One goal of educating consumers about healthy and sustainable seafood options is to shift demand and change commercial fishing and aquaculture practices. But, if producers can pass off their product as a fish known to be safe and ecologically sustainable, there is little incentive to change practices due to market forces. This also puts honest wild-caught fishers and fish farmers at a disadvantage. To increase demand for fish that are safe and caught or produced sustainably, we need to know what we are eating and where it comes from, and that is why we need better monitoring and enforcement of seafood labeling in Maryland.

For more information on Jillian and the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project’s work, click here. For more information on The Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act, click here

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Bill of the Week: Education Funding

government affairs and policy update national aquarium

Did you know? Nearly 60,000 Maryland school children, teachers, and chaperones visit the National Aquarium free of charge every year through a partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).

national aquarium education

Governor O’Malley’s Fiscal Year 2015 Operating Budget includes over $6 million in funding for 40 State Aided Educational Institutions (SAI) across the State of Maryland. The proposed grant includes $474,601 for the National Aquarium.

During the current 2014 session, our Government Affairs team has been working diligently in Annapolis to voice strong support for this important education funding and the Aquarium’s allocations within the state’s budget.

Through our partnership with MSDE, the National Aquarium provides students across the state opportunities to interact with our 17,000+ animals and geographically-diverse exhibits, all with the aim of providing an education beyond the classroom without any cost to the students or their schools.

Funding from the SAI program has offset 52 percent of the cost of our school program, making it possible to offer this program to 960 local schools, and open our doors each year to over 59,000 students, teachers, and chaperones—for free.

This funding will give 28,000 students the chance to visit the Aquarium in 2014. They will join the 2.5 million Maryland school children from every jurisdiction in the state having visited the National Aquarium since our opening in 1981.

The National Aquarium’s education program offers more than just field trips. We also have a year round continuum of extracurricular experiential programs for all ages, off-site “outdoor classroom” programs to communities and free curriculum training to over 500 teachers.

national aquarium education

The field trip experience combined with the Aquarium’s commitment to advancing the science programs in Maryland schools will help educate a future generation with an interest and passion in the environmental sciences, all the way from the tropical rain forests to the Chesapeake Bay.

sarah elfreth government affairs manager national aquarium

Bill Introduced in Maryland House to Combat Seafood Fraud

national aquarium government affairs and policy update

Earlier this week, Delegate Eric Luedtke introduced a bill that would provide Maryland residents with better information on the origin of purchased seafood.

The “Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act” (House Bill 913) is the first piece of legislation introduced in the state of Maryland that directly addresses seafood fraud. According to our partners at Oceana, at least one-third of all seafood items purchased in the United States are mislabeled. They also reported that 26 percent of tested seafood in the DC metro area was mislabeled.

Citizens can have a tremendous positive impact on the health of our bays and oceans through their everyday consumer choices. The effectiveness of these choices is directly linked to the reliability of the information provided. Proper identification opens the doorway to increased knowledge of where seafood is raised and harvested, contributes to the movement of sustainable fishing practices and sustainably minded consumers, and results in a healthier ocean.

The National Aquarium is proud to support this bill: we cannot properly protect the ocean without fully understanding its creatures and our relationship to them. A large amount of our interaction with fish and shellfish occurs in the kitchen and in restaurants, and the more we can know about where our food is from the better we will understand this relationship.

Through educational programming, conservation action, special events like our Fresh Thoughts Sustainable Seafood Dining Series, and in supporting policy initiatives like this one, the National Aquarium places a high priority on promoting and supporting seafood that is caught both locally and sustainably.

Here are the five things you need to know about the Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act:

  1. This bill specifically prohibits any person from knowingly misidentifying the species of seafood product being sold in the state of Maryland.
  2. This bill requires that species, common name and state of origin be identified on restaurant menus or market signs, as appropriate.
  3. The bill requires specific identifications for crab products, barring anything that wasn’t made from the Atlantic crab species Callinectes sapidus from being labeled as “blue crab.”
  4. In addition to actively supporting this bill, Oceana has also petitioned Congress to pass federal labeling legislation. If passed, Maryland would become the 2nd state in the country to require this type seafood labeling.
  5. Over 400 chefs nationwide have signaled their support for this type of legislation, including 25 chefs from Maryland and 10 from Baltimore.

The bill will be heard in front of the House Environmental Matters Committee on February 26th at 1:00 pm. The National Aquarium team will testify in support and will actively advocate for the bill before the entire General Assembly.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our legislative update emails and follow me on Twitter for real-time updates from Annapolis throughout session!

Want to contact your Maryland representative regarding House Bill 913? Find your legislator here.

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Government Affairs Update: 90 Days in Annapolis

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The Maryland General Assembly was gaveled into its 434th session today at noon in Annapolis.

maryland shark fin bill

Hot topics in this election year session include raising the minimum wage, expanding pre-kindergarten programs, and revisiting Maryland’s stormwater law. You can read more previews of the 2014 legislative session in the Washington Post’s 10 Things to Watch list, the Baltimore Sun’s 8 People to Watch list, or see what our partners at Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland League of Conservation Voters will be working on over the next 90 days.

As part of the National Aquarium’s mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, our Government Affairs team is committed to helping shape conservation and environmental policy at the local, state, and federal levels and engaging our community every step of the way. Weekly Legislative Updates, along with our blog and social presence, will serve to communicate the Aquarium’s legislative activities during the 90-day session. You can read the Aquarium’s 2013 End of Session Report recapping last year’s work in Annapolis.

While the list of Senate and House pre-filed bills are available for viewing, the bulk of the 3,000 pieces of legislation predicted to be introduced this session will be filed in the coming weeks. The Aquarium’s legislative agenda will evolve as the session progresses and bills are introduced. Stay tuned for updates on our policy priorities, the status of the Aquarium’s Capital Budget request and education funding, and ways you can get involved.

For more information on how the National Aquarium is living its mission in our home state, visit aqua.org/maryland.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our legislative update emails and follow me on Twitter for real-time updates from Annapolis throughout session!

Want to know who represents you? Find your legislator here.

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