Ann Swanson, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission

Ann Swanson speaking at William & Mary Law School.

Ann Swanson speaking at William & Mary Law School.

In the 1960s and 70s, Ann Swanson says the critical state of the Chesapeake Bay was clearly visible.

Swanson, the Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, visited the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic (VCPC) and the Student Environmental and Animal Law Society at William & Mary Law School as a guest speaker on February 5.

Although Swanson is a native of Long Island, she has worked on issues in the Chesapeake Bay watershed for over 30 years. She argues that the Chesapeake Bay is an incredible national resource even when compared with Long Island Sound, which “used to ship oysters back to the Queen.”

The Bay is also incredibly vulnerable to environmental changes and human use because of its expansive watershed. Reflecting on a frequent occurrence of several decades ago, Swanson described a “jubilee” of blue crabs running out of the water to escape the lack of oxygen in the polluted water. The Chesapeake Bay Commission was formed in response to the critical state of this estuary. The Commission is a tri-state legislative consortium that unites policymakers from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, despite their differences in government structure and watershed use, to combine efforts to conserve the Bay.

Swanson gave an example of the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s work by explaining the logic behind setting targets and threshold population sizes for the lucrative blue crab fishery. Imagine that you’re driving a car, said Swanson. The road is the target that you are trying to meet. The guardrail along the side of the road is the threshold, which keeps you on track. It is possible to drive down the road blindfolded, scraping along the guardrail, and still meet the goal of driving down the road. However, your car will be badly damaged and in need of repair, just as the fishery would be without proper management and advocacy by organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Swanson also emphasized the important role that environmentally-conscious lawyers play in creating successful legislation that leads to substantive results. Law students, like those at William & Mary, are trained to write faster and communicate stronger than professionals in other fields.

“You’re in the right place [at William & Mary],” Swanson told the students.

VCPC and SEALS students at the lecture. Photo credit: Rosemary Hambright

VCPC and SEALS students at the lecture. Photo credit: Rosemary Hambright

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