Bay Journal

Bay needs menhaden more than reduction industry

  • By Bill Bartlett on March 01, 2016
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Much has been written and discussed about menhaden (Brevootia tyrannus), a forage fish for many other fish, birds and mammals.

Recently, a bill was introduced into the Virginia Legislature to move the management of these fish from the Virginia Legislature to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. It was never voted out of subcommittee. This signifies that it is all about politics and money because the VMRC has trained and knowledgeable people to better regulate the menhaden than a group of politicians.

Even with all that has been said and done about menhaden, there is still more that has only been touched on lightly.

Just take into account the amount of menhaden removed by the reduction fleet — 300 million pounds a year — and think about what the fish eat to gain that weight: algae (phytoplankton and zooplankton).

If you consider the food conversion rate of maybe 2 pounds of algae for each pound gained — it may be a little more or a little less) — then you can assume that those fish ate 600 million pounds of algae. And, this is just the amount of algae eaten by the menhaden removed by the reduction fleet.

We need these fish left in the Bay to remove more algae that form as a result of the influx of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. The algae cloud the water and when they die and drop to the bottom, use up the oxygen and cause dead zones.

Also, we are told to eat fatty fish to enhance our health. Where do these fish get their fatty oil? Omega 3 oil, which is found in microscopic plants called phytoplankton. It is not made by the fish or by any living animal.

Where do the fish that don’t eat the phytoplankton get their omega 3 oil? They get it by eating the fish that do eat the phytoplankton. That would be menhaden. We need omega 3 oil for our health and so do the predatory fish.

If menhaden are not available in sufficient numbers to provide the food needed by the predatory fish, then the predatory fish will eat other things, like crabs, which do not provide the proper diet.

The Chesapeake Bay needs its menhaden population returned to past levels. We should not be removing millions of pounds to feed farm animals and farmed fish.

Bill Bartlett

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About Bill Bartlett
Bill Bartlett, a longtime Bay observer, lives in Valley Lee, MD.
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