For more than 25 years, CBF has worked with partners toward a healthy menhaden population in the Chesapeake Bay to ensure that this nutrient-packed fish can fulfill its key role in the food chain. Much of this has involved the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the state/Federal partnership that develops plans and limits to manage the menhaden fishery along the entire East Coast. These plans are then implemented by each state. Because the vast majority of the region's menhaden are caught in Virginia, the Virginia General Assembly and Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) have also been critical in this work.
We've come a long way since 2006, when the first harvest cap was put in place for menhaden in the Chesapeake. After years of work and advocacy, in 2020 the ASMFC put in place ecological reference points when setting catch limits. These reference points aim to ensure that there are enough menhaden to feed striped bass and other key predators. Also in 2020, management of Virginia's menhaden fishery was transferred from elected legislators in the General Assembly to fisheries experts at the VMRC.
The below timeline outlines key points in the recent years of CBF's long history of involvement in menhaden conservation.
CBF Calls for Reductions in Menhaden Catch
ASMFC's Benchmark Stock Assessment shows the total menhaden population is at its lowest level on record. Peer-reviewed population estimates show menhaden have been overfished for 32 of the past 54 years.
CBF calls for fair and reasonable changes to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) menhaden management plan in order to rebuild the population, including a 25 percent reduction of the catch, achieving a new target mortality rate within five years.
ASMFC Adopts New Management Plan
The ASMFC adopts revisions to the fishery management plan for Atlantic menhaden, referred to as Amendment 2. This includes significant revisions aimed towards reducing harvest pressure and increasing the population. Changes include a first ever coast-wide harvest limit and a reduction in the Chesapeake Bay harvest cap on the reduction fishery. CBF supported both of these initiatives.
Menhaden Conservation Bills Pass
The Virginia General Assembly overwhelmingly directs the state to reduce the annual Virginia menhaden harvest by 20 percent. The menhaden fishery is the only fishery in the state managed by the Virginia General Assembly, not the VMRC.
VMRC Moves Forward to Protect Menhaden
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) establishes harvest allocations for the menhaden bait fishery and reporting requirements for menhaden landed in Virginia.
CBF Urges ASMFC to Consider Ecological Reference Points
Prior to the ASMFC May meeting, where an increase in catch quotas is expected to be considered, CBF recommends the Commission take no actions to increase harvest quotas until measures are taken to account for menhaden's ecological value as an important source of food for other fish species, birds, and marine mammals.
ASMFC adopts a modest increase of approximately 10 percent in the coastwide quota and starts a new set of changes to the management plan, termed Amendment 3, that seeks to include ecological reference points to account for the species' ecological value.
Menhaden Harvest Decision Delayed
The ASMFC Board postpones a decision on a proposed increase to the 2017 menhaden harvest cap until the group's annual meeting in late October.
CBF urges the Board to stay focused on Amendment 3.
ASMFC Increases Menhaden Harvest Quota
CBF voices its disappointment with the ASMFC Menhaden Management Board's vote for a 6.5 percent increase in the menhaden harvest cap for the Atlantic Coast. CBF notes the most recent stock assessment, which highlighted issues with overall abundance; the lack of new data to support the increase; and the as yet unfinished Amendment 3. Action on the amendment is expected in November 2017.
ASMFC Adopts Menhaden Harvest Changes
The ASMFC Menhaden Management Board takes action on parts of Amendment 3: decreasing the Chesapeake Bay cap on the reduction fishery harvest cap from 87,216 metric tons (mt) to 51,000 mt, increasing the coastwide catch limit for 2018 by 8 percent, and prohibiting quota rollovers. The Board does not adopt catch limits based on menhaden's role in the food chain, and rejects putting in place interim conservation measures that would have taken those ecological reference points into account.
The Commission continues working on ecosystem-based ecological reference points, and CBF continues its push to implement these standards as soon as possible.read more
Coalition Highlights Urgency of Menhaden Legislation
A coalition of conservation and recreational fishing organizations, including CBF, urge support for new legislation that would ensure Virginia avoids the consequences of falling out of compliance with the menhaden fishery management plan adopted by the ASMFC in November. At this point, Virginia must codify the recently adopted changes to the menhaden management plan or risk having all of its menhaden fisheries shut down by the Department of Commerce.read more
Menhaden Legislation Stalls
Legislation aiming to keep Virginia in compliance with the ASMFC menhaden management plan fails to advance in the Virginia General Assembly.read more
Menhaden Compliance Decision Delayed
The ASMFC Board postpones a motion to declare Virginia out of compliance with its menhaden reduction fishery harvest cap until February. Such a motion would require notifying the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who could either agree and shut the fishery down or disagree and let Virginia maintain the status quo.read more
CBF Opposes Omega Protein Certification
CBF urges the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) not to certify Omega Protein's Atlantic menhaden fishery as sustainable. MSC's seafood sustainability standards verify that a fishery is well-managed and sustainable. The blue MSC label is respected by consumers looking for sustainable seafood.read more
ASMFC Commits to Further Study of Menhaden Harvest Cap
The ASMFC Board passes a motion requiring Virginia to maintain its menhaden harvest below the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishery harvest cap to reflect overages that occurred in 2019. It also commits to further assessment of the Bay cap after work is completed on the Amendment 3 ecological reference points.read more
CBF Challenges Omega Protein Certification
CBF and The Nature Conservancy submit an objection to the issuance by the MSC of a provisional seafood sustainability certification for Omega Protein's Atlantic menhaden fishery.read more
Omega Protein Certification Hits Snag
An independent adjudicator, hearing the challenge to the MSC's seafood sustainability certification of Omega Protein by CBF, The Nature Conservancy, and other conservation groups, makes it clear that before Omega is conditionally certified, Virginia and other states must adopt the ASMFC's new management plan when it is completed.read more
Omega Protein Knowingly Violates Menhaden Cap
CBF expresses deep concern following an Omega Protein announcement that it is knowingly and willingly going to exceed the Chesapeake Bay menhaden harvest cap overwhelming adopted by the ASMFC.read more
ASMFC Finds Virginia Out of Compliance with Harvest Cap
The ASMFC Menhaden Management Board votes unanimously to rule Virginia out of compliance with the menhaden harvest cap on the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishery. As required by law, ASMFC notifies the U.S. Commerce Department of the violation, initiating agency review and further action.read more
Calls for Action on Menhaden
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam asks U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to impose a moratorium on Virginia's menhaden harvest, in response to Omega Protein's violation of the harvest cap.
CBF urges the Commerce Department to back the ASMFC and recommends Virginia legislators transfer management of the menhaden fishery to the VMRC, like every other saltwater fishery in the Commonwealth.read more
U.S. Commerce Department Supports ASMFC
The U.S. Department of Commerce upholds the ASMFC non-compliance finding against the Commonwealth of Virginia resulting from Omega Proteins' announcement that it had exceeded the harvest cap.
The Commerce Department has notified the ASMFC that it will impose a moratorium on Virginia's menhaden harvest if the fishery is not in compliance by June 17, 2020.read more
Menhaden Legislation Approved by Virginia Legislature
The Virginia House and Senate overwhelmingly pass bipartisan legislation to transfer management of Virginia's menhaden fisheries from the General Assembly to the VMRC.
New Menhaden Limits Prevent Fishery Shutdown
The VMRC updates the menhaden harvest cap to bring Virginia into compliance with the ASMFC menhaden management plan adopted in 2017. This action avoids a shutdown of the menhaden fishery due to noncompliance with the ASMFC.
ASMFC Adopts Groundbreaking Change to Menhaden Management
At its August meeting, the ASMFC finally commits to taking ecological reference points—which value the importance of menhaden to other predators, including striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish—into account when establishing fishery harvest limits.
Legislation Passed to Improve Our Knowledge of Menhaden
The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill directing the state to study the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of menhaden populations. The Virginia Institute of Marine Fisheries was tasked with developing a plan for the study.