A healthy menhaden population is necessary for striped bass
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.