You can't find anyone around the shores of the Chesapeake Bay who doesn't have an opinion on the scarcity of menhaden, a small and oily fish that is at the center of decades-old arguments about potential overfishing by selfish commercial interests.
Talk to saltwater sport fishermen in Maryland and Virginia and they will tell you the rockfish (striped bass) they are catching look undernourished, with skin blemishes that some believe are a result of a lack of proper nutrition ? which primarily is made up of menhaden.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and its Atlantic Menhaden Management Board recently approved an addendum to its Interstate Fishery Management Plan that modifies the plan's biological reference points, schedule for stock assessments and habitat provisions regarding this highly important predator forage species. It also is used for various industrial products, including fish oils, vitamins and animal feed.
The addendum is based in part on the recommendations of a menhaden technical committee, which found in its 2003 stock assessment that menhaden are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring on a coastwide basis. This assessment alone will give concerned sport anglers a massive headache because they believe the exact opposite is true.
The latest menhaden population assessment by the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review Panel uses a new modeling approach and fecundity-based biological reference points to determine stock status. These reference points, the ASMFC says, are more accurate and take into account the number of mature ova (eggs). This is a significant departure from the way menhaden assessments have been conducted in the past. The addendum changes the plan's fishing mortality target and threshold levels as recommended by the technical committee.
The ASMFC's management board also will address concerns regarding the possible localized depletion of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay. A workshop is scheduled Oct. 12-14 that will examine the menhaden's ecological role, especially as a forage fish, and identify management options with respect to this role. Workshop participants will include state, federal and university personnel with expertise in the ecological role of Atlantic menhaden, predator-prey interactions, localized depletion and fisheries ecosystem plans.
The entire addendum can be seen on the commission's Web site at www.asmfc.org
or can be obtained by contacting the commission at 202/289-6400.
Meanwhile, we doubt that anyone at the ASMFC can convince Marylanders and Virginians that all is OK with menhaden populations.