A 26-member panel of Virginia legislators, environmentalists and watermen will study fishing pressures on menhaden, a small fish in big demand for use in health supplements and a critical food source for other Chesapeake Bay fish.

The oily, bony fish are key in the Bay's food chain, supporting striped bass, bluefish and other species. They are also processed into omega-3 fish oils sold as heart-healthy food supplements. Menhaden have also made the Northern Neck town of Reedville one of the biggest U.S. fishing ports, based on pounds landed.

"I believe the diverse and inclusive group we have assembled will take this task seriously and help flesh out some of the complex issues involved with sustainable use of this important species," said Sen. Ralph Northam, a Norfolk Democrat. Earlier this year, he failed in an attempt to transfer management responsibility for menhaden from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.