6/30/01 Letter to Mr. V.D. Borden, Chairman Atlantic Menhaden Management Board

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Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation, Inc. Founded 1984, Easton, MD

6/30/01 Letter to Mr. V.D. Borden, Chairman Atlantic Menhaden Management Board

Mr. David V.D. Borden, Chairman
Atlantic Menhaden Management Board
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
1444 Eye Street, N.W., 6th Floor
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Mr. Borden:

The Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation, Inc. is formally requesting that the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board take emergency action to conserve the depleted stock of Atlantic Menhaden in accordance with Section Six of the Interstate Fisheries Management Program Charter of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.Section Six: Standards and Procedures for Interstate Fishery Management Plans (Emergencies). (Definitions of Emergencies) “The provisions under this subsection shall only apply in those circumstances under which … the conservation of coastal fishery resources … has been placed substantially at risk by unanticipated changes in the ecosystem, the stock, or the fishery”.

The Chesapeake Bay is an important nursery area for Atlantic Menhaden and has been reported to account for 45% of the Atlantic Menhaden recruitment along the east coast of the United States. Recruitment indexes in Maryland and Virginia have been extremely poor in recent years, causing unanticipated changes in the stock, the fishery, and the ecosystem. A number of these changes were discussed in our letter to the AMMB, dated May 12, 1999. The National Marine Fisheries Service currently estimates that the number of Atlantic Menhaden Ages-1 to 8 is less than 2-billion fish, the lowest population on record. The Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation, Inc. is requesting that the AMMB protect Age-0 Atlantic Menhaden from being exploited along the Atlantic coast and limit the harvest of immature Age-1 and Age-2 Atlantic Menhaden, that account for approximately 80% of the landings by the reduction fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. This could be accomplished by annually closing the reduction fishery season on November 30th and by establishing a harvest quota (e.g. 25,000 metric tons) for the Chesapeake Bay.

The AMMB has failed to prevent the reduction fishery from harvesting large numbers of Age-0 Menhaden and has made no attempt to limit the harvest of immature Age-1 and Age-2 Menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay even though an established trend of recruitment failure in the Chesapeake Bay and a depressed coastal spawning stock biomass have resulted in historically low reduction fishery landings. The estimated Atlantic Menhaden 2000 spawning stock biomass, 33,200 metric tons, is 81% below the ten-year historic average, estimated at 176,000 metric tons, from 1955 to 1964. The estimated reduction fishery landings of 81,000 metric tons of Atlantic Menhaden from Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay decreased dramatically in 2000, and is 45% below the previous 15-year average of 148,000 metric tons. The total estimated reduction fishery landings of Atlantic Menhaden for the Atlantic coast of 167,000 metric tons in 2000 are the second lowest since the NMFS began keeping records in 1940. Also, the total estimated number of Atlantic Menhaden landed in 2000 is 71% below the 45 year average number landed and are the lowest estimated number recorded since the NMFS began estimating the number of fish caught in 1955.

In 1999 the ASMFC advised the reduction fishing industry “to avoid to the extent practicable, the harvest of Age-0 Menhaden”. However, an estimated 194 million and 77 million Age-0 Atlantic Menhaden were landed at the close of the 1999 and 2000 fishing seasons accounting for 18% and 12% respectively of the total numbers harvested. Obviously there is directed effort that targets Age-0 Atlantic Menhaden by the reduction fishery late in the season. This action by the reduction fishery disregards the ASMFC’s recommendation “to avoid to the extent practicable, the harvest of Age-0 Menhaden”.

Fishery Management Plans are routinely approved by the ASMFC without considering the health of individual species or their effect on entire ecosystems along the Atlantic coast. For example, the ASMFC doesn’t consider the ecological impact of over-harvesting immature Atlantic Menhaden on the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s striped bass population. This failure in fisheries management is exemplified by the current unhealthy condition of the Bay’s striped bass population and how it has been adversely affected by the Bay’s declining forage base. A summary of an in-depth study, “A Bioenergetics Approach For Determining The Effect Of Increased Striped Bass Population On Its Prey And Health In The Chesapeake Bay”, can be found on the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation’s website at www.chesbay.org. Recently the ASMFC amended their Atlantic Menhaden Fishery Management Plan, however, they did not address the plan’s ecological objectives, one of their primary concerns over allocation of the stock. The ASMFC should be required to coordinate their Fishery Management Plan’s with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Fisheries Ecosystem Plan before developing new or amending existing Fishery Management Plans that could have a negative impact on the ecology of the nation’s largest estuary.

Atlantic Menhaden transfer an enormous amount of nutrients into forage biomass, and at the same time improve water quality with the potential to consume up to 25% of the nitrogen annually from the Chesapeake Bay. No other fish has the capability to replace this unique species. Historically, during their residence in the Chesapeake Bay, a healthy population of Atlantic Menhaden had the capacity, in less than two days, to filter a volume of water equal to the entire Chesapeake Bay. Considering the importance of Atlantic Menhaden to the ecology of the inland and coastal waters along the east coast of the United States, management decisions are needed to reverse the long term decline of this valuable resource. We need to rebuild the Atlantic Menhaden stock to a level that can support the populations of finfish, birds, and mammals that depend on an abundant supply of this important forage fish to survive.

I would like to express my gratitude to the new AMMB for considering this request and would be happy to answer any questions that you or the board have regarding the charts enclosed.

James E. Price

cc: Congressman Wayne Gilchrest
Penelope W. Dalton
Dr. Jamie Geiger
John H. Dunnigan
Dr. Sarah Taylor Rogers
William A. Pruitt
Dr. Judith Freeman
Diana Esher
Dr. Joseph C. Desfosse