Vision of fishable Inner Harbor by 2020 is murky

Tony Tochterman, who along with his wife, Dee, owns Tochterman's Fishing Tackle, the city's oldest bait and tackle store, remembers it well.

Tony and Bob Wall, division chief of Baltimore's Recreation and Parks Department, helped introduce area children to fishing by hosting a tournament. As they led the group down the hill, rods in hand, the Inner Harbor slowly came into view and the children's eyes lit up.

"Wow," one youth said. "That's the ocean."


"They had never seen water before," Tochterman said. "These are people in Baltimore City. That hit me a lot. It's one thing not to be able to go to Ocean City. But to look at that and think that's the ocean, that's bad."

What they were seeing, of course, was the Patapsco River emptying into Chesapeake Bay — hardly the size an ocean would be. But many of the fish that swim through the currents of the Atlantic Ocean, some 180 nautical miles east of the Harbor, could also live comfortably in Baltimore if the Healthy Harbor plan, which calls for a fishable, swimmable Inner Harbor by 2020, were to come to fruition.

But according to Tochterman, the city's waterways have headed in the wrong direction, which doesn't bode well for the cleanup efforts.

"I think it's feasible to have fishing around the harbor," said Dave Smith, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association. "It's right there; you just throw a line in. But the success you're going to have, I question."

How realistic is 2020?

In spite of the arduous task the Waterfront Partnership, the organization that wrote the Healthy Harbor plan, has in front of it, there are currently lines being cast near the harbor.

"We do have members that fish at Patapsco and they do get close to the Inner Harbor," Smith said. "There are fish in the Inner Harbor."

Smith went on to name white perch and spotted and striped bass as fish that can be found in the Harbor's water, though "the stripers and perch don't come up there quite like they used to," said Gene Kane, an employee at Tochterman's.

Smith added that catfish could be plentiful, too.

"The Chesapeake Bay is unbelievable," Smith said. "The fishing, the types of species — it's tops on the Atlantic coast."

But the days of anglers casting a line from the docks on the commercialized waterfront still seem far away. Tochterman smirks when asked whether the 2020 deadline date is realistic.

"There's not a shot in hell. If they did everything correctly starting today, it wouldn't be done [by 2020]," he said.

Added his wife, Dee: "People will not even touch a fish from the Harbor. That's sad. That's sad."

Overcoming obstacles

This past summer, and the overwhelming heat waves that accompanied it, intensified some of the problems that face the Healthy Harbor campaign. Algae blooms and fish kills vanquished waterways all over Baltimore. These were brought on by the unbearable heat, as well as rising nitrogen and phosphorous levels.

But pollution remains a daunting hurdle. Gaze into the murky water on the Harbor and visibility is a few inches at best.