November 9, 2011
Historic Vote in Boston to Manage Menhaden Harvest
is Boon to Chesapeake
Rockfish among prey fish that will benefit from more food
(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) enthusiastically applauds a historic vote in Boston today by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to set new fishing limits for menhaden and new targets for a healthy population. The decision will allow the "most important fish in the sea" to rebound from a dangerous population decline, and will boost the health of the coastal ecosystem and fishing industries that depend on the fish.
"If striped bass could speak, they'd be hooting and hollering," said CBF President Will Baker. "The commission's decision will mean more food for stripers which have been beset by malnutrition. And bluefish, ospreys, eagles, and Bay critters that feed on menhaden are celebrating too. This is great news for jobs, for our economy and for a society that values wildlife."
The importance of the commission's decision can hardly be overstated. Menhaden is a keystone species along the Atlantic, a foundation of the ecosystem. The small, silvery fish is a preferred food for many prey fish and birds, as well as an important source of bait for crabs and lobsters. Swimming in schools, menhaden also are harvested for fish oil and meal. But the fish has been overfished 32 out of the past 54 years, and its population has fallen to its lowest size on record.
The impact of the population decline has been worrisome. Historically, 70 percent of the diet of adult striped bass in the Chesapeake was menhaden, but recent studies found menhaden comprised only eight percent of the diet of juvenile stripers. And up to 70 percent of Chesapeake stripers sampled are infected with mycobacteriosis, a stress-related and typically fatal disease. Poor nutrition increases the severity of these infections. Mortality is significantly higher in infected bass than in those without the disease. Striped bass is a prize fish in the recreational fishing industry.
The commission, representing states on the Atlantic Coast, had before it a series of possible new management options. In the end, it voted for the option pushed by CBF and its many Atlantic states partners: setting a harvest limit that will ensure menhaden reproduce to at least 15 percent of its historic spawning potential. Currently, the population is spawning at only half that rate. The commission's action will give the menhaden population a much better ability to replenish itself.
"Today, our management of menhaden has finally started accounting for menhaden's critical role," said Bill Goldsborough, CBF senior fisheries scientist, and a ASMFC commissioner. "We've learned from other fisheries, such as striped bass and crab, that easing harvest pressures can dramatically replenish a stock. This decision will spur menhaden abundance and begin the rebuilding process."
CBF pushed hard for this vote, generating over 1,000 e-mail messages to the commission, at least 50 individual letters from businesses, organizations, and publications, and more than 40 hand-written letters through an appeal to our members. CBF also worked closely with groups from Maine to Florida to generate support for the measure. Altogether, the commission received 91,149 comments on the issue, with 90,771 of those favoring tough management limits.