A Timeline of Menhaden Conservation

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.

October 2012

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.

December 2012

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.

February 2013

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.

March 2013

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.

May 2015

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.

August 2016

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.

October 2016

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.

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.

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February 2018

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.

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March 2018

Menhaden Legislation Stalls

Legislation aiming to keep Virginia in compliance with the ASMFC menhaden management plan fails to advance in the Virginia General Assembly.

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August 2018

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.

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December 2018

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.

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February 2019

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.

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March 2019

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.

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August 2019

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.

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September 2019

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.

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October 2019

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.

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November 2019

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.

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December 2019

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.

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February 2020

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.

April 2020

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.

August 2020

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.

April 2023

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.

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