After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Protecting the “Most Important Fish in the Sea”

(Posted by Gerald Winegrad.)

Conservationists have been working for seven years to gain conservation measures for menhaden. This species plays an important role in the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem as a filter feeder, as a critical prey species for other fish and for piscivorous (fish-eating) birds. That’s why this keystone species has been called the most important fish in the sea.

After the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission 2010 stock assessment found that menhaden are at their lowest point on record, the group is on the brink of adopting historic coast-wide conservation measures for this over-fished species. Yesterday, a group of 30 Chesapeake Bay leaders sent this letter to ASMFC urging restrictions on fishing this critical species.

Dear ASMFC Commissioners,

Please accept these comments from 30 Bay leaders on Addendum V to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden urging adoption of risk-averse management through the adoption of a maximum spawning potential threshold (MSP) of at least 15 percent and the establishment of a management target that is no less than 40 percent MSP. Note our signatories include former governors, former U.S. senators and congressman of both parties, current legislators and Ph.D. scientists as well as conservation leaders from Maryland and Pennsylvania.

We hope you will act to adopt these measures and a coast-wide total allowable catch (TAC) limit with specific quotas that substantially reduce the industrial reduction fishery, especially from the Chesapeake Bay.

Thank you.

Gerald W. Winegrad

November 1, 2011

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
1050 North Highland Street
Suite 200A-N
Arlington, VA 22201
Re: Support for Strong Conservation Measures for Menhaden

Dear Members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission,

We, the undersigned group of 30 scientists, policymakers, and conservationists, are writing to urge the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to finalize Addendum V to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) with a maximum spawning potential threshold (MSP) of at least 15 percent and to establish a management target that is no less than 40 percent MSP. The current 8 percent MSP is not sustainable and the ASMFC detailed peer-reviewed stock assessment released in 2010 found that menhaden have been overfished in 32 of the past 54 years.

The ASMFC stock assessment also found that:

  • The annual removal of adult fish by the fishery is 65% or higher, making it unlikely menhaden will have a chance to spawn more than once;
  • The menhaden stock has been reduced to less than 10% of the spawning potential of an unexploited stock; and
  • Recruitment – the number of juvenile fish produced that survive to enter the adult population- has been poor for twenty years.

Our group includes two former Maryland governors, a former U.S. senator, a former congressman, current and former Maryland state senators, and a current county council member as well as top Bay scientists and activists from Maryland and Pennsylvania. As strong supporters of Chesapeake Bay restoration we fully recognize the important role menhaden play in the Bay’s ecosystem as a vital and unique link between primary production and higher organisms. Because menhaden occupy such a crucial niche in the ecosystem, excessive removal of such prey species disrupts an ecosystem’s natural balance and sustainability. Among their many ecological functions, menhaden serve as filter feeders, as a critical prey species for other fish and for piscivorous birds. That’s why this keystone species has been called the most important fish in the sea.

We believe that the 40 percent MSP is the minimum dictated for menhaden as risk-averse multi-species management dictates a conservative approach for a forage species such as menhaden. Scientists have recently recommended a target stock level for forage species as high as 75 percent of an unfished population. Smith ADM et. al. Impacts of Fishing Low–Trophic Level Species on Marine Ecosystems. Science 333 (6046): 1147-50, 26 August 2011.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has recommended that forage stocks like menhaden be managed to maintain biomass above that associated with Maximum Sustainable Yield and for menhaden this equates to levels close to the 40 percent MSP.

As scientists, policymakers, and conservationists dedicated to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, we note that the diet of rockfish (Morone saxatilis) and Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) have changed radically due to the decline in menhaden numbers: Surveys in Chesapeake Bay show menhaden now account for less than 8 percent of the diet of rockfish when historically menhaden comprised as much as 70 percent of the prey consumed by adult rockfish; and in the 1980s, more than 70 percent of the fish delivered to Osprey nests were menhaden, which dropped to less than 27 percent of the Osprey diet in 2006 in the same area studied.

Scientists believe that this drop in menhaden consumption may have led to serious problems for these two species: Striped bass in the Bay have shown signs of malnourishment and infections with mycobacteriosis. In 2006, surveys of Osprey nests found that only four of every 10 chicks survived to fledge, well below the 1971 levels of the DDT-era when fewer chicks were hatching but nearly eight of 10 survived to fledge. Chicks were hatching in 2006, but they were starving in the nest as adult Osprey were delivering nearly three times less fish and fish not as nutritious as menhaden to nestlings. See Dr. Bryan D. Watts, Director, Center for Conservation Biology, College of William and Mary, Chesapeake Wildlife in the Balance, Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 19, 2011.

We would urge the adoption of these new 15%/40% MSPs and an accelerated implementation of management measures to achieve the minimum 40 percent management target including a risk-averse coast-wide total allowable catch (TAC). The TAC should include specific quotas that substantially reduce the industrial reduction fishery, especially from the Chesapeake Bay. More than 400 million pounds of menhaden were harvested for this fishery in 2010.

Respectfully Submitted,

Harry R. Hughes
Former Governor of Maryland (1979-1987)
24800 Pealiquor Road
Denton, MD 21629

Wayne T. Gilchrest
U.S. Congressman (1991-2009)
13501 Turner’s Creek Road
Kennedyville, MD 21645

Senator Bernie Fowler
Maryland State Senator (1983-1995)
P.O. Box 459
Prince Frederick, MD 20678

Senator Brian E. Frosh
Chair, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee
Former Chair, Senate Environment Subcommittee (1995-2003)
Miller Senate Office Building, 2 East Wing
11 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

Delegate C. Richard D’Amato
Former Member Maryland House of Delegates (2003-2007)
6 East Lake Drive
Annapolis, MD 21403

Walter Boynton*, Ph.D., Professor
Chesapeake Biological Laboratory
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
1 Williams Street
Solomons, MD 20688

Tom Horton*
Author and Adjunct Professor
Salisbury University
6633 Oak Ridge Dr
Hebron, MD 21830-1180

Karla Raettig, Executive Director
Maryland League of Conservation Voters
9 State Circle, Ste 202
Annapolis, MD 21401

Frederick Tutman, Patuxent RIVERKEEPER® 18600 Queen Anne Road
Rear Barn
Upper Marlboro, MD 20774

Fred Kelly, Severn River RIVERKEEPER®
329 Riverview Trail
Annapolis, MD 21401

Debra Bowman, Executive Director
Central Pennsylvania Conservancy
401 E. Louther St., Suite 308
Carlisle, PA 17013

Drew Koslow, Choptank Riverkeeper
Choptank River Eastern Bay Conservancy
PO Box 1276
St. Michaels, MD 21663

Brian Mangan, Ph.D.,
Director, King’s College
Environmental Program and The Susquehanna River Institute
133 N. River Street
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711

J. David Foster, Chester Riverkeeper
Chester River Association
100 North Cross Street, Suite One
Chestertown, Maryland 21620 USA

Kathy Phillips
Assateague Coastal Trust and Assateague Coastkeeper
PO731
Berlin MD 21811

Parris N. Glendening, PhD.*
Former Governor of Maryland (1995-2003)
President Smart Growth Leadership
1707 L Street, NW Suite 1050
Washington, DC 20036

Senator Joseph D. Tydings, J.D.
U.S. Senator (1965-1971)
1825 I Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006

Senator Gerald W. Winegrad, J.D.
Maryland State Senator (1983-1995), Delegate (1978-1983)
Adjunct Professor, UM School of Public Policy
1328 Washington Drive
Annapolis, Maryland 21403

Senator Paul G. Pinsky
Chair, Senate Environment Subcommittee
James Senate Office Building, Room 220
11 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

Thomas R. Fisher*, Ph.D., Professor
University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science
Horn Point Laboratory
Cambridge, Maryland 21613

Richard Pritzlaff, President
The Biophilia Foundation
61 Cornhill Street
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, Riverkeeper
West/Rhode RIVERKEEPER®
And Anne Arundel County Council Member
4800 Atwell Road, Suite 6
Shady Side, MD 20764

Diana L. Muller, South River RIVERKEEPER® South River Federation
2830 Solomons Island Rd., Suite B
Edgewater, MD 21037

Michael R Helfrich
Lower Susquehanna RIVERKEEPER®
Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna, Inc.
324 W Market St
York, PA 17401 Robert Jay

Russell B. Stevenson,Jr.
Chesapeake Legal Alliance
733 Dividing Road
Severna Park, MD 21146

Ken Okorn*, Board of Directors of the Central
Pennsylvania Conservancy and Member, Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited
12 Brandywine Drive
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050

Ned Gerber, Habitat Ecologist/Director
Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage
P. O. Box 1745
Easton, MD 21601

Erik Michelsen
South River Federation
2830 Solomons Island Road, Suite A
Edgewater, MD 21037

Theaux Le Gardeur, Executive Director and
Gunpowder RIVERKEEPER®.
16928 York Rd
Monkton, MD 21111

Tom Leigh, Miles-Wye Riverkeeper
Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy
23 N. Harrison St
Easton, MD 21601

*The views expressed in this document represent the personal views of the signatories marked with an * and not necessarily the views of their employers or organizations.

One Response to Protecting the “Most Important Fish in the Sea”

  1. Thanks for your important work on this, Gerald.