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More TLC for Two Very Important Bay Critters

Grisham5.jpg[1] 
Some encouraging news in recent days about two of the Chesapeake Bay’s most important living resources, menhaden and blue crabs.

First, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted last week to move forward with a series of proposals that should help increase the overall number of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay.

Menhaden Menhaden, frequently dubbed “the most important fish in the sea” because of their critical ecological role, have been declining in number in the Bay and along the Atlantic coast for many years. The decline has marine scientists worried, as menhaden are a major food source for other Bay creatures, including game fish, sea birds, raptors, and marine mammals. Menhaden also help maintain a balanced marine ecosystem by consuming immense quantities of plankton in the Bay.

Menhaden play an important commercial role as well. They are the object of an intense industrial fishery that takes 85,000 to 90,000 tons of menhaden out of the Bay each year to manufacture cosmetics, fish Menhadenboat oil pills, and animal feed. They are also caught and used as bait for crabs and other species.

Recent ASMFC studies have found that menhaden have been overfished for decades, and the commission last week concluded that it’s time to more tightly restrict how many menhaden can be safely harvested each year and still maintain a healthy population and sustainable fishery.

The commission will soon hold hearings and receive public comment on harvest-control proposals, then vote on a final strategy later in the fall. If you care about menhaden and want to weigh in, keep an eye on ASMFC’s website for the opportunity to comment.

In the end, any action that results in more menhaden in the Bay will be a good thing, for nature and mankind. 
 
On the blue crab front, a federal-state assessment of the Bay’s crab population released this week concluded that the feisty, tasty “beautiful swimmer” could use some additional management help as well. The study found that, while the crab population in the Bay is rebounding after harvest restrictions were imposed in Virginia and Maryland three years ago, more needs to be done to ensure their numbers continue to increase to more sustainable levels.

Crab The study focused on how many reproducing female crabs should be in the Bay to maintain a sustainable population. In the past, scientists believed about 200 million adult crabs were needed to ensure a healthy population in the Chesapeake. The new assessment recommends that managers aim for a target population of 215 million adult female crabs and a total population of 415 million adult crabs.

Virginia and Maryland fisheries officials indicated that additional catch restrictions are unlikely, given the recent increases in crab numbers. However, they also said that current harvest rules probably will not be relaxed at this time.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) agrees the most prudent approach is to stay the course. As with menhaden, the more crabs there are, the better off everyone will be. As CBF Hampton Roads Scientist Chris Moore observed, “We are now seeing a rebounding crab population, increased harvests, and greater economic value of the crab fishery. This should encourage the states to maintain their current approach to managing crabs in a way that not only protects the crab population but ensures the long-term economic prosperity of the fishery."

***

Johnbeth For some vicarious thrills, check out this blog updated daily by two Chesapeake Bay Foundation staffers who are spending their summer vacation pedaling around the Chesapeake Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed on bicycles.

Senior Scientist Beth McGee and Discovery Trip Program Manager John Rodenhausen are more than half way through their six-state, 1,300-mile-plus journey. They left Baltimore two weeks ago and pedaled north into Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. They’re now in Virginia, climbing up and careering down the Blue Ridge Mountains toward Charlottesville, Richmond, and Hampton Roads.

The pair undertook the journey to bring awareness to the great breadth of the Bay’s watershed, the ailing health of its hundreds of feeder streams and rivers, and the exciting opportunity posed by the ongoing federal-state cleanup initiative to restore the Bay and its rivers. They’re also hoping to raise $20,000 for CBF, the American Diabetes Association, and the oncology department of Johns Hopkins University. The fact that the trip offered some good old fashioned fun and adventure didn’t hurt, either.

If you’re a cyclist and would like to ride with them for a stretch, or would just like to cheer them on as they wind their way through the Old Dominion, here are a couple of opportunities:

When: Monday, August 15th 9:00am
Where: Bluegrass Grill and Bakery 313 2nd Street , Charlottesville, VA 22902

When: Tuesday, August 16th 8:00am
Where: Lamplighter Café, 116 S. Addison Street, Richmond, VA 23220

Questions? Contact Jess Barton at Jnbarton@gmail.com or 804-780-1392 (cell: 843-813-8095).

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photo credits: blue crabs,Carrie B. Grisham; menhaden, Yuri Huta.

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