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.
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.”