Attorney General Gansler Seeks Protections for Chesapeake Bay Menhaden
Troubled fish species is essential to health, economic vitality of the Bay
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission considers new rules
MD ( Nov. 2, 2011) - In an effort to combat further environmental and economic damage to the Chesapeake Bay from the historic decline of Atlantic menhaden, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler today asked the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) - the interstate body tasked with managing menhaden - to take much needed steps to better protect menhaden from unsustainable fishing levels. Unchecked commercial fishing - particularly the industrial practice of "reduction fishing," which grinds the fish up for its oil - has contributed to an 88 percent decline in the Atlantic menhaden population since 1985. The ASMFC's fishery management plan for menhaden has so far failed to reverse this decline.
"For far too long, the ASMFC has allowed menhaden to be fished to extremely low levels," said Attorney General Gansler. "We need strong action now to prevent further damage to this crucial link in the Bay food chain."
Attorney General Gansler issued comments to the ASMFC as it considers updating its menhaden fishery management plan for the waters that include the Chesapeake Bay. The Atlantic menhaden has been called "the most important fish in the sea" and is crucial to the health of the Bay because of its role as a filter and forage fish. Menhaden remove plankton from Bay waters and serve as a staple food in the diets of species like osprey and striped bass, Maryland's state fish.
The decline of the Bay's menhaden population has "coincided with the appearance of larger and more frequent algal blooms in the Bay, which cause substantial environmental harm," according to studies cited by Attorney General Gansler in his statement. "Research has shown that harvesting of low-trophic level species like menhaden can have major impacts across the ecosystem. Because menhaden, by nature, travel throughout much of the East Coast and are fished in many states, no one state can comprehensively reduce their decline from overfishing. For example, although Maryland banned commercial harvesting of menhaden with purse seine nets many decades ago, the practice continues to be permitted elsewhere."
The Attorney General asked the ASMFC to ensure that the menhaden population can return to sustainable levels by raising the "fishing mortality threshold" from 8 percent to 15 percent and the "fishing mortality target" from 20 percent to 40 percent.
From the comments submitted to the ASMFC:
"The Commission's interstate fishery management plan (FMP) for the menhaden has so far failed to adequately protect the menhaden fishery, particularly from overfishing. Despite menhaden's historic decline, the Commission has allowed menhaden to be fished down to 8% of their maximum spawning potential, even though established science suggests that such a level is unsustainable, as will be discussed below. The Commission concedes that, even under this generous management plan (where removing over 90% of fish is not considered overfishing), 'overfishing is occurring' and that 'overfishing has occurred in 32 of the last 54 years.' . . . Nonetheless, the Commission has so far failed to adjust its management of menhaden to address this troubling situation."
Click here for full AG Gansler comments to ASMFC – Atlantic Menhaden Management Plan