Gov. Harry Hughes went fishing today and in a major policy reversal, the fish cooperated.
Hughes, seeking through this "day on the bay" to draw attention to his Chesapeake cleanup initiatives, was so busy reeling in bluefish for three hours, "We didn't get to eat our lunch," moaned press aide Norm Silverstein.
Last year when he tried the same thing further up the bay it wasn't as good. "We only caught one, a 14-pounder," said Hughes' wife, Pat. "Fortunately the governor caught it in the first 10 minutes when the TV crew was aboard. It was an election year."
The Hugheses and state Natural Resources chief Torrey C. Brown were the principal anglers aboard Bunky Conner's charter boat, Kathy C. They left the dock at 8:30 a.m. and by noon were headed back in, the fish box crammed with 31 chopper blues in the 10- to 13-pound range. Conner, beaming, said it was his best day all season.
"We must have 150 pounds of fish," marveled the governor as he tried, but failed, to hoist a plastic sack full of boneless, skinless fillets overhead. Midway through the morning mayhem his wife had relayed a message to the governor's mansion to "change the menu tonight to bluefish."
Nor was it just the Hughes party that hammered the blues. The state Department of Economic and Community Development chartered 17 boats from the Solomons and Chesapeake Beach fishing fleets, and guests on every boat appeared to have a field day.
Hughes prefaced the trip with a sobersided speech Tuesday night in which he outlined plans for a "bay summit." He said he will meet with Govs. Richard Thornburgh of Pennsylvania and Charles Robb of Virginia June 20 in Harrisburg, Pa., to work on a tristate effort to improve bay water conditions.
In his speech, Hughes cited preliminary findings from a $30 million federal study in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found serious problems in the bay.
Among them: Bay grasses scarcer than ever; freshwater spawning fish, including striped bass and shad, at historically low levels; dramatic increases in nutrient levels in the bay, causing decreased light and oxygen levels; high concentrations of heavy metals and toxic organic compounds in certain areas.
Hughes said the tristate "minisummit" June 20 will focus on these problems, and a planning committee from the three states will submit further recommendations to the governors in September. They will meet again, along with EPA and District officials, at a major interstate conference Dec. 7-9 at George Mason University.
Brown said a state and federal commitment to improving bay quality will require a major investment.
"It's like a business," he said. "You spend 5 to 10 percent of your capital for research and development. We've spent $30 million on bay research; we should spend 10 to 20 times that much putting into effect the recommendations."
Not lost on the governor or the DNR chief was the fact that while the bluefish catch today was massive, not a single striped bass was landed. Stripers, also called rockfish, are the state fish and were kings of the bay 10 years ago.
"Now that would have been nice, to catch a rock," said Brown, confirming that some fishermen are never satisfied.