Environmentalists and Recreational Anglers Call for Limits on Industrial Harvesting of Menhaden

October 26, 2004
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Contact:  Kathleen Goldstein, 202-572-3243

(26 October 2004 -- Annapolis, MD)  Leading recreational fishing and conservation organizations announced today the formation of "Menhaden Matter," a cooperative effort to protect Atlantic menhaden from industrial harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay by Virginia-based purse seine operators. The group called on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission--the multi-state regulatory body responsible for managing the stock--to take proactive measures, including catch limits, at its upcoming meeting in November.

A report issued by "Menhaden Matter," which includes the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Environmental Defense, and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, concludes that menhaden's important ecological roles in the Chesapeake Bay are at risk. Menhaden are principal filter feeders of the Bay's waters, second only to the grossly depleted oyster. They are also the primary food source for many popular sport and commercial fish, including striped bass.

The report finds that the overall numbers of menhaden, including its juvenile population, are at near historic lows and predators, such as striped bass, are showing signs of stress and lesions that may be tied to malnutrition. It also cited the lack of menhaden as affecting the population of seabirds, such as loons and ospreys.

"Taken alone each indicator may not be enough for managers to act, but collectively they paint a compelling picture of a food web starved by lack of forage fish. It suggests we no longer have the luxury of conducting an industrial scale fishery with no catch limits on an ecologically critical species in the Chesapeake Bay," said Bill Goldsborough, senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"Every menhaden is important, not just the spawning stock," added Coastal Conservation
Association senior scientist Dick Brame. "They all play a critical forage role for a variety of fish from the smallest grey trout to the largest striped bass. Managing for abundance is critical for forage species like menhaden and we are not doing that now."

Like most Atlantic states Maryland has closed its waters to the industrialized harvest of
menhaden, but Virginia has not. A single Houston-based company, Omega Protein, which operates a newly enhanced facility in Reedville, Virginia, harvests 90 percent of the entire catch on the East Coast.

"The ecological role of menhaden is at serious risk because a Virginia-based fishing fleet takes more than 100,000 tons of these fish every year from the Bay and nearby waters," according to Ken Hinman, President of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation. "We believe there is a danger to striped bass and other key predators, if we continue to harvest menhaden the way we do."

"Let's be clear about one thing from the beginning. None of the groups involved in this effort want to shut down the industrial fishing of menhaden," according to David Festa, Director of the Oceans Program for Environmental Defense. "But we believe the commission should take proactive measures to protect the stock. Currently no conservation measures--not even fishing limits--are in place to ensure that menhaden remain at healthy levels within the Chesapeake. That must change."

For more information please visit the Menhaden Matter website at: www.menhadenmatter.org or Environmental Defense's Oceans Alive campaign at www.oceansalive.org.