Take Action to Save Menhaden
Stormwater Fee Helps Chesapeake Bay

What Happens Next for Menhaden?

The public has now weighed in on what to do about the plight of Atlantic menhaden, the “most important fish in the sea” that has plummeted to record-low numbers in the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coast.

Today (Friday, Nov. 16) marked the final day to send public comments to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the coast-wide agency that manages menhaden and that’s devising a plan to address their dwindling numbers.

Early indications are the commission received tens of thousands of letters from individuals and groups concerned about menhaden’s plight. Groups representing interests as divergent as recreational anglers, birders, charter captains, restaurant chefs, and chambers of commerce have urged the commission to take aggressive steps to restore the menhaden population. Why do they care?

Menhaden.forageMenhaden are a small, bony fish considered inedible by humans but incredibly important in the diets of many other critters people care passionately about – striped bass (the state fish of Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia), weakfish (Delaware’s state fish), summer flounder, dolphin, whales, ospreys, loons, pelicans, and sea birds.

Menhaden are filter feeders, swimming with mouths agape to consume floating microscopic plants and animals and converting them into oily, energy-packed fish flesh that other animals higher on the food chain depend upon for food.

Menhaden also play an important commercial Menhaden.Omega role. They are the target of an industrial “reduction” fishery in Reedville, Va., that catches great quantities of menhaden and processes them into oil and meal. About 80 percent of all the menhaden netted up and down the East Coast wind up in Reedville, making the town one of the largest fish landing ports (by weight) in the United States. The other roughly 20 percent of the menhaden harvest is used as bait, mainly by Chesapeake Bay crabbers and New England lobstermen.

But now the plummeting stocks of menhaden in the Bay and along the East Coast – they’re down to about 8 percent of unfished levels – has scientists worried about their long-term sustainability. What to do about it is now in the hands of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The commission is expected to review all the public comment and release a final coast-wide plan on Dec. 14.

Then, each of the commission’s 15-member states, from Maine to Florida, must adopt and implement the plan in a timely and effective Menhaden.ASMFCmanner. If you live in an East Coast state and care about “the most important fish in the sea,” contact your state governor and urge that your state adopt the commission’s plan.

This is especially important if you’re a Virginian. Unlike other East Coast states, in Virginia the protection (or lack of it) of menhaden is up to the members of the state General Assembly, making menhaden the only fishery in Virginia managed by politicians, not scientists. Historically, the state’s lawmakers have not been disposed to take quick or aggressive action to protect menhaden. Because Virginia is home to the industrial fishery that accounts for about 80 percent of the coast-wide catch, it is critical that Virginia do its part to protect and conserve menhaden.

Urge Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to ensure the legislature adopts the commission’s plan to protect this little fish with such a big following.

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I have lived and fished the bay since 1994. Fiish go where there is food . No food no fish. I have never seen fishing as bad as it has been in the last three years . Over harvesting is killing the bay. Follow the example of the crab . Stopped dredging in the winter and a good deal more crabs were available in the summer. Go figure. This is not rocket science it's politics. When the bay thrives everyone benefits

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)