Menhaden Cap Advances

May 11, 2005


Contact: Kathleen Goldstein, 202-572-3243

(ALEXANDRIA, VA - May 11, 2005)- Menhaden Matter, a cooperative effort of conservation and environmental groups, endorsed today’s decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to move forward on a plan to limit the number of menhaden harvested by an industrial fishery from the Chesapeake Bay.

“This is an important step forward toward proactive conservation measures to ensure a healthy menhaden population in the bay,” said Bill Goldsborough, senior fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  

The action taken by the ASMFC, the multi-state regulatory body that manages the stock, will seek public comment and conduct public hearings in Maryland, Virginia and other East Coast states on a management plan that would cap the annual harvest 110,400 metric tons.  This harvest cap is based on the average annual harvest over the past five years.  Both Governor Robert Ehrlich and the state’s congressional delegation urged the commission to place a limit on the industrial harvest at this level until more research can be done.

“It just makes common sense to cap the industrial purse seine harvest of menhaden while we try to learn more about its impact,” said Sherman Baynard, fisheries committee chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland.   “After all, as recreational anglers know, almost every fish caught in the bay has a catch limit.  Menhaden should also.”

The ASMFC rejected an initiative offered by Omega Protein, the Houston based company that takes 90% of the entire East Coast menhaden catch.  In their proposal the industry would voluntarily cap their harvest, but at an increased level of 135,000 metric tons annually for the next four years.  Omega, which recently opened up a newly enhanced processing plant in Reedville, Virginia, also wants to reopen state waters, such as those of Maryland and New Jersey, which are currently closed to industrial purse seine operations.

“While recreational anglers and conservationists are calling for maintaining the catch at current levels, Omega Protein is advocating a dramatic increase in their harvest,” said David Festa, oceans program director at Environmental Defense.  “Obviously, such a plan would only exacerbate the current situation - not remedy it.”

Menhaden have been called the “most important fish in the sea.”  They are prime food for striped bass and other popular sport fish.  They are also the prime filter feeder for the Chesapeake Bay, next to oysters that are grossly depleted.  However, recent studies have shown that the overall number of menhaden is at near historic lows and predators that depend on the fish as a food source, such as striped bass, are suffering malnutrition and poor body condition.

“This is a very important fish to the ecosystem. That is why anyone who cares about the future of the Chesapeake and the Atlantic Coast fishery should go to these public hearings,” said Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation. “Through their comments and letters, they are going to help their commissioners make the right decision for the fish and the future of fishing.”

Menhaden Matter is a unique cooperative effort of concerned conservation and recreation organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Environmental Defense and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, dedicated to protecting the ecological role of menhaden and the Chesapeake Bay.