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Chesapeake News and Dos

A Turning Point for Menhaden, Part Three

JP at hearing2CBF's John Page Williams addressing the crowd at Tuesday night's public hearing on menhaden. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

“You all are talking about cutting my pay!” Those were the impassioned words from third-generation bait fisherman Capt. Larry Powley at Tuesday night’s public hearing on menhaden in Annapolis, Maryland. Powley is concerned—as many watermen are—that possible changes to the way menhaden are managed will destroy his livelihood and way of life on Hooper’s Island.

In August, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) announced its decision to consider changes to its management plan for the Atlantic menhaden population, which has reached its lowest point on record—a mere 8 percent of what it once was. A keystone species for the entire marine ecosystem, menhaden are often called, “the most important fish in the sea.” As CBF’s Senior Naturalist John Page Williams says, “We are simply not leaving enough menhaden in our coastal waters to sustain the fish and birds that have depended on them for thousands of years.” Not to mention the thousands of water-related jobs up and down the Atlantic coast which depend on the survival of this fish now and for many years to come.

Tuesday night’s meeting was just one of 13 public hearings taking place throughout the next few weeks to solicit comments from communities along the East Coast about what to do about menhaden. The mild October evening had brought together a packed and mixed crowd of suits and sandals alike, eager to voice their thoughts on menhaden overfishing thresholds and fishing rate targets

Though Powley’s concerns are valid, Williams emphasizes that there’s no interest in running anyone out of business, but rather ensuring the sustainability of this incredibly important species, both for us and for the coastal food webs. “What we’re talking about tonight is how to keep the stock from crashing. Today, the coastal stock of Atlantic menhaden is at its lowest level on record . . . A stock collapse is a real possibility. We must allow the Atlantic menhaden stock to rebound, just as we have done over the past 25 years for rockfish and crabs.”

In the end, the menhaden population needs to increase to a point where it can support a fishery and fulfill its vital ecological role. “Must we crash a valuable natural resource before we get religion and respond effectively? Or will we heed the warning signs and back off before a crash?” Williams questions. “The second course is much more responsible and less expensive in the long run, for both the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and us, the human community that it supports.” 

—Emmy Nicklin


Send your comments to ASMFC,, urging the adoption of a new overfishing Threshold Option 2, a level corresponding to 15% of menhaden’s maximum spawning potential (MSP) as well as the adoption of Target Option 3, a fishing level corresponding to 30% MSP, by 5 p.m. November 2, 2011.

View Parts One and Two of this menhaden series. Download Menhaden Testimony 101111 to read John Page Williams' menhaden comments in full. The possible options for targets and thresholds are outlined in Draft Addendum V to the menhaden management plan. To learn more about this important fish and what you can do to save it, please visit our webpage.



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