Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Chesapeake Bay’s Misguided War on the Ray"

The state of Maryland has imposed a moratorium on a blood sport that had been taking place across its slice of the Chesapeake Bay for nearly a decade. Each year, contestants congregated with boats and bows and arrows. Their goal: to hunt and kill as many cownose rays as possible.

Thousands of dollars in cash prizes were dished out for killing the most and biggest rays.


A decade ago, the journal Science published a paper by renowned biologist and conservationist Ransom Myers. The widely cited paper was published just days after Myers’s death, and painted a dim picture of a collapsing trophic cascade in the northwestern Atlantic.


Up the coast in Virginia and Maryland, this report was exactly what people wanted to hear. For oystermen on the Chesapeake Bay, it was direct and to the point: the abysmal harvests they were seeing were not their fault. Conservationists read Myers’s paper as a testament to the importance of sharks.

The paper emboldened efforts to protect sharks. It also, inadvertently, vilified the ray. Any nuance in Myers’s paper was lost.

Suddenly, everyone on the Chesapeake thought they knew what needed to be done: save the sharks, kill the rays, save the bay.