Menhaden fishery must be managed

The Chesapeake Bay Acid Rain Foundation is concerned about the management of Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay. I have worked with various state and federal officials over the past two years to address some of the problems affecting the forage base for finfish both in the Bay and along the Atlantic Coast.

In recent years, numerous states along the East Coast have enacted legislation or have enforced fishing regulations that have banned or limited the harvest of Atlantic menhaden in their respective state waters. As a result, the menhaden reduction fishery has concentrated their efforts to harvest Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake region of the Atlantic coast, causing seasonal depletions of this valuable resource within Maryland’s portion of the Bay.

Based on the latest estimates by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Atlantic menhaden population is the lowest on record, and has declined 79 percent since 1991. Improved fisheries management is one of the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program, and to accomplish these goals, important decisions need to be made now to change the way Atlantic menhaden are being managed.

On Feb. 17, 1998, I made a presentation to the Bay Program’s Living Resources Subcommittee concerning the decline of Atlantic menhaden and their relationship to the health of the Bay’s striped bass population. Atlantic menhaden are an important filter feeder, transferring enormous amounts of nutrients into food for large prey fish, while at the same time improving water quality with their potential to consume up to 25 percent of the nitrogen from the Chesapeake Bay. With the help of Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, we are making progress toward obtaining funds to conduct some of the research and stock assessment work that could improve our understanding of the role of Atlantic menhaden as one of the Bay’s most important finfish. This should result in improved fishery management that could affect many of the Bay’s living resources and the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay.

While the Bay Program has fishery management plans for various species, it does not have one for Atlantic menhaden. I am requesting that it consider addressing this issue by developing a Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic menhaden.

The 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement committed the Bay Program to the development of management strategies for “major commercially, recreationally and ecologically valuable species.” Menhaden are, by far, the largest commercial catch in the Bay by weight and their role as forage for striped bass and other predators and as natural water filterers certainly makes them one of the Bay’s most ecologically valuable species. Yet the Bay Program has never developed a management strategy for menhaden. If it fails to follow the direction given by the 1987 agreement, promises in the new “Chesapeake 2000” agreement will lack credibility. I hope the Chesapeake Bay Program becomes more involved in the menhaden issue, as many of the program’s ultimate objectives for a restored, healthy Chesapeake are linked to the health and management of this unique species.

Jim Price, President
Chesapeake Bay Acid Rain Foundation

Involve all parties in oyster restoration efforts

As someone who has devoted the past five years to the effort, I found the article on the scientific consensus for the restoration of oyster populations [Bay Journal, September 1999] to be of considerable interest. I feel, however, that two factors should receive greater attention.

1. If we are able to get the “buy-in” from the general public on long-term funding, it is imperative that we be candid and stress the amount of time that the restoration process will require. While it is encouraging to point to the recovery of the rockfish as an example of a successful restoration effort. I would submit that the restoration of the stocks of this finfish might be an anomaly and not relevant to the challenges offered by a communal benthic species such as the oyster. For reasons beyond the scope of this letter, we will never approach the standing stocks as reported by early settlers and, once a target is chosen, all bets are off on the amount of time that might be required to reach this goal.

2. The Maryland Oyster Roundtable Action Plan adopted in 1993 underscored the dual importance of the oyster: economics and ecology. Recent publicity regarding restoration efforts has failed to fully focus on and involve the economic side of the house. As the former executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, I worked closely with members of the fishery. Discussions of such proposals as broodstock sanctuaries, slot limits, the movement of diseased seed and sustainable practices are not foreign to members of this constituent group, yet I sense that they have yet to be involved in these large-scale discussions. I would encourage members of the scientific and regulatory communities to involve the public fishery throughout the discussion process. Time spent now involving all parties in the planning process will pay back immeasurably when and if new and innovative restoration efforts “hit the water.”

Robert M. Pfeiffer
Port Republic, MD