A healthy men­haden pop­u­la­tion is nec­es­sary for striped bass

Dorchester Star - - Classifieds - CHRIS KNAUSS

Jim Price of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Eco­log­i­cal Foun­da­tion sent me a press re­lease with un­bi­ased, sci­en­tif­i­cally-based in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the man­age­ment of At­lantic men­haden and striped bass in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. The eco­log­i­cal foun­da­tion dis­agrees with the At­lantic States Ma­rine Fish­eries Com­mis­sion’s 2015 men­haden stock as­sess­ment’s con­clu­sion that men­haden have not been over­fished in five decades.

Ac­cord­ing to the CBEF, the “as­sess­ment does not ad­dress eco­log­i­cal over­fish­ing (un­sus­tain­able har­vest lev­els that dis­rupt the nat­u­ral bal­ance be­tween preda­tors and prey). Although the 2015 as­sess­ment in­di­cated men­haden re­pro­duc­tive po­ten­tial may be greater than pre­vi­ously thought, to­tal abun­dance of this in­dis­pens­able prey species is low and con­tin­u­ing to de­cline.”

CBEF has ex­ten­sive data on the feed­ing habits of striped bass in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. Men­haden are cru­cial for a healthy diet for striped bass over 12 inches and rep­re­sent up to 75 per­cent of the their diet. Poor year-classes of young men­haden in the Ch­e­sa­peake has be­come the norm since the early 1990’s. In ad­di­tion to ser ving their func­tion in the eco­log­i­cal food chain, men­haden are fil­ter feed­ers that nat­u­rally clean the bay’s wa­ters.

As stated in the re­lease, the “nat­u­ral life span of men­haden is 10-12 years. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to data col­lected by NMFS, very few men­haden over age 5 are present in the re­duc­tion fish­ery land­ings. Based on this trun­cated age struc­ture and con­sis­tently low num­bers of ju­ve­niles in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay over the past 22 years (an­nual MD DNR sur­veys) fish­eries sci­en­tists would log­i­cally con­clude that men­haden have been over­fished for at least 2 decades.”

In my opinion, the most prac­ti­cal and eth­i­cal so­lu­tion to in­crease the age struc­ture of men­haden is a re­duc­tion in the purse seine fish­ery. If pro­tein is needed for pet food, there are plenty of pro­tein sources else­where. For ex­am­ple, there are mil­lions of in­va­sive Asian carp jump­ing around in the Mis­sis­sippi River right now that would sup­ply Omega Pro­tein Com­pany with all the fish it needs.

As CBEF points out, a “fun­da­men­tal prob­lem of man­ag­ing At­lantic men­haden is the al­lo­ca­tion of the re­source be­tween the fish­ing in­dus­try and eco­log­i­cal ser­vices . ... The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and At­lantic coast ecosys­tems would be more pro­duc­tive if the men­haden pop­u­la­tion was eco­log­i­cally sound. Ei­ther a fur­ther re­duc­tion in the purse seine fish­ery har­vest or main­tain­ing the cur­rent TAC [to­tal al­low­able catch] for ap­prox­i­mately 5 years would be a pre­cau­tion­ary ap­proach that could be taken by the ASMFC un­til ex­plicit eco­log­i­cal ref­er­ence points can be de­vel­oped for At­lantic men­haden.” * * * For the Ducks The Bay Hun­dred Ducks Un­lim­ited chap­ter will hold its 13th an­nual Clay­ton Katski Memo­rial Ladies Fish­ing Tour­na­ment on Sun­day, June 12 at Har­ri­son’s Ch­e­sa­peake House, Til­gh­man Is­land. The tour­na­ment is ladies only; men can cap­tain or be mates. Tro­phies will be awarded for the five top rock­fish caught and door prizes will be of­fered. Re­fresh­ments and lunch are in­cluded. Call 410-886-1072 for in­for­ma­tion and sign-up sheets. A lim­ited num­ber of boats and cap­tains are avail­able for an­glers need­ing them.

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