The long-term goal of the Bay Program is to protect, restore and maintain the "living resources" of the Chesapeake.
One of the tools to accomplish that is fishery management plans - documents that provide the decision-making framework that guides actions for particular fish species, such as harvest levels.
All of the Bay Program's fishery management plans are for single species only. But starting last year, fishery management plans have taken a broader scope, with the approval of plans for blue crab and black drum that include specific habitat protection and restoration goals.
In addition, the Bay Program late last year adopted guidelines for future fishery management plans which begin setting the stage for the Bay states to move further into the realm of multispecies management.
For example, the new guidelines for the first time direct plans to maintain "essential food web relationships" between species.
"Clearly, we can't continue to be myopic in looking at the various species," said Carolyn Watson of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who chairs the Bay Program's Living Resources Subcommittee. "We have to consider how everything fits in with everything else. We have to start moving in that direction."
While all of the food web linkages among Bay species are, in many cases, not well understood, Watson said it may be reasonable for fisheries management plans - which are reviewed every five years - to begin including information about the closest food web linkages, such as striped bass and menhaden, where those relationships are known.
The new principles for fisheries management plans include:
- Be risk averse (preventative of a crisis instead of reactive to one).
- Use the best scientific information.
- Establish sustainable targets for a species and, a) develop and adopt a level of harvest that will quickly attain the established target and maintain the target, and b) define, protect and restore the habitat needed to support that target.
- Assure renewability of the stock (maintaining adequate numbers to assure long-term health and reproduction)
- Identify, protect and restore critical fish and shellfish habitat for all life stages and the species and individual stocks of the species.
- Identify, coordinate and advocate necessary management actions needed between the jurisdictions, including regulations and legislative actions.
- Strive to manage a fishery and/or species by maintaining essential food web relationships, through multispecies management.
- Consider the long-term socioeconomic health of a fishery.
- Take a more conservative approach than the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council when all Bay Program signatories agree such action is necessary. The ASMFC, which represents all East Coast jurisdictions, develops plans to manage migratory species within three miles of shore. The MAFMC develops plans for species in federal waters, more than three miles from shore.
- Minimize bycatch (that portion of a catch taken in addition to the targeted species because of non-selectivity of gear to either species or size differences).
- Provide the background and justification for joint positions of Chesapeake Bay Program partners on Chesapeake Bay issues under consideration by the ASMFC and MAFMC.