CHESAPEAKE BEACH, Md. -- Scientists say there is no available evidence that dolphins are harming populations of fish in the Chesapeake Bay despite social media speculation among sport fishermen blaming the marine mammals for harassing schools of rockfish.
Rockfish are a Chesapeake Bay delicacy pursued heavily by commercial and recreational fishermen alike.
But many say it's been a poor year on the Bay and now a growing number are beginning to question whether an apparently increasing population of dolphins in the Bay might be to blame.
Researchers who have been tracking dolphins in increasing numbers said they don't have any answers.
"We don't have information to confirm one way or the other if there is any impact," say Greg Bortz, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Many commercial watermen said dolphins are chasing and eating valuable game species like rockfish, but there are many other environmental factors that are impacting the health of the Bay this season.
"We've had a lot of weather that isn't normal," said commercial fisherman Andy Mattes III, who noted heavy rains this spring and high temperatures this summer.
Mattes said low oxygen in much of the bay cause by polluted runoff is a major problem. He said blaming dolphins is too simplistic.
Researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences reported at least 900 Chesapeake are dolphin sightings in 2017, including many in the Potomac River and others north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
UMCES research is underway to determine why the population appears to be increasing and what the dolphins' impact may be.
People who see dolphins are encouraged to report sightings here.