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Fish Dying of a mysterious disease? Blame the poor farmers

November 12, 1997

Fish Dying of a mysterious disease? Blame the poor farmers

Finally we have some answers to the cause of the Maryland's pfish-steria crisis: It's all the farmers' fault.

Well why not, they're easy. Got a pollution problem? Blame the farmers. Got a zoning problem? Blame the farmers. Scared of Alar? Blame the farmers. Just built a split level right next door to a hog farm and now you don't like the smell? Blame the farmer, who's only been there for six generations.

I'm having a problem with my transmission, and I'd lay odds the farmers are behind it.

Fish dying of a mysterious disease and people sickened? Blame the farmers.

How come every time they scare up a problem with that glorified sinkhole in the east they want to regulate us here in the west? Do we blame the watermen everytime we have a drought? I don't think so.

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I love the Bay. And maybe if the cows were out swimming around in it, or snorkeling or playing water polo or something, I could understand. But we're a hundred miles away. Are the cows having contests to see who can spit as far as the Chesapeake?

And where's the team spirit? We're part of Maryland, too, you know. So can't the state blame Pennsylvania or Delaware, or West Virginia farmers? Of course not, for the sole reason that Maryland knows it can't tell Pennsylvanians what to do. So it picks on the people it can legally boss around. The Chesapeake Bay watershed extends into New York state. But drive up to Chenango County and tell them their cows are poisoning our crabs. See what kind of looks you get.

Strange thing is, I don't know too many people who care more about the land and the environment than farmers. I also hesitate to criticize them, because they produce this tiny little item to which I have become quite fond: Food. You might say I could no longer live without it.

Further, I bicycle all over the region, and I'll be hanged if I know where they're stashing all these millions of fish-tormenting bovine. Washington County may have more cows than it has lawyers perhaps, but the ratio is not overwhelming. If these cows are dispatching enough waste to drown the Bay, I fear they may be ill.

The problem, as I probably incorrectly understand it, is "nutrients."

Instantly I'm confused. Aren't breakfast cereals always bragging that they're full of nutrients? Doesn't corn stop growing if the soil doesn't have enough nutrients?

I suppose it's one of those Paul Revere deals. Nutrients are good if by land, bad if by sea. I'm also assuming here that nutrients is a kind word for an unkind cattle byproduct. After all, who wouldn't rather fix a nutrient spreader than a manure spreader?

Nutrients help plant life grow, including algae. And algae is aquatically incorrect because it robs the water of oxygen and blocks sunlight, allowing harmful bacteria to grow. Either that or it doesn't cover its mouth when it sneezes.

So if algae's the problem, can't they just throw a little Baquacil into the Bay and vacuum it every morning?

Along with saying the farmers are causing the problem, the state is simultaneously saying that there isn't any problem at all. This is sort of like the lawyer of a murder suspect who says "My client absolutely didn't do it. But if he did, it was in self-defense." Maryland doesn't have a pfiesteria problem. But if it does have a pfiesteria problem, it's the fault of those derned Maryland farmers.

In the most high-profile meals since the Last Supper, Gov. Parris Glendening has been eating more fish than a stork at high tide to prove that all is well and urge that everyone remain calm.

That's good enough for me, although I believe it needs to stop there. You won't see me eating "nutrients" to prove they are harmless.

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