9/3/1999 Letter To Mr. William Pruitt, Chairman Atlantic Menhaden Management Board

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

9/3/1999 Letter To Mr. William Pruitt, Chairman Atlantic Menhaden Management Board

Mr. William Pruitt, Chairman
Atlantic Menhaden Management Board
Virginia Marine Resources Commission
2600 Washington Avenue
P.O. Box 756
Newport News, VA 23607-0756

Dear Mr. Pruitt,

After receiving your letter requesting information about Atlantic menhaden and the Chesapeake Bay Acid Rain Foundation, Inc., I spoke with Jack Travelstead on August 16, 1999. I hope the following information and explanations are adequate based on the advice I received from Mr. Travelstead.

In 1978 I was appointed by former State Senator Fred Malkus to the Citizens Advisory Committee for Striped Bass to make management recommendations concerning striped bass, and have continued to work with government agencies and universities since that time. In 1984, I founded the CBARF, a non profit environmental organization that works on many issues concerning the restoration and management of the Chesapeake Bay. I receive no funds or grants from any state or federal agency or university and donate my time, equipment and resources to government agencies and universities. I pay my own travel expense to attend workshops and meetings concerning bay issues. You can obtain more information about the CBARF on our website, www.chesbay.org. I am currently working with Congressman Wayne Gilchrest on obtaining funding for increased water quality monitoring stations and to investigate striped bass and Atlantic menhaden issues. Enclosed are copies of proposals submitted to the congressman, from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, United States Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. The CBARF has worked hard over the past two years to get state and federal agencies to look at the relationship the bay’s declining forage base has on the health of our striped bass population in the Chesapeake Bay, and the relationship that Atlantic menhaden have to this problem. Also we need to determine the cause of the dramatic decline in abundance of the Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay and along the entire Atlantic coast.

The statements made concerning the current health of the striped bass population are based on remarks from my letter to you that explain how growth rates have been affected. The current bioenergetics study being conducted by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore indicates that consumption rates of Atlantic menhaden by striped bass are lower than have been reported in other studies. Data obtained from the MD-DNR Juvenile Finfish Seining Survey, as well as, estimates of recruitment from the National Marine Fisheries Service, explain why Age-0 menhaden haven’t been available in sufficient numbers to support the larger striped bass population that we currently have, in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Enclosed I am including a chart that shows the declining ratio of Atlantic menhaden to striped bass, using their Virtual Population Analysis estimates. The intensive harvest of Age-1 & 2 Atlantic menhaden in Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay has been documented by the NMFS. Their reports indicate that approximately 60% of the total coastal landings are harvested from Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay. To demonstrate why I state, “intensive harvest of Age-1 & 2 menhaden”, you only need to look at the NMFS landings data that show 69% of the total landings were Age-1 & 2 menhaden for 1998. (See enclosed chart).

My comment, “The reduced numbers of Atlantic menhaden, which escape this intensive fishery, are not adequate to supply the dietary needs of both fish and bird populations in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay”, was derived from information obtained from Hartman & Brandt’s, “Predatory Demand and Impact of Striped Bass, Bluefish, and Weakfish in the Chesapeake Bay: Applications of Bioenergeticss Models”, and Dr. Paul Spitzer’s loon census survey conducted from 1988-1998. Common loon populations have not decreased, just numbers of loons feeding in the upper portion of the Chesapeake bay have decreased. This is quite alarming since the common loon’s primary diet consists of Atlantic menhaden.

To clarify the statement “At the current rate of recruitment and exploitation the Atlantic menhaden population is demonstrating signs of collapse”, the current rate of recruitment based on the NMFS populations’ estimates shows the population of Atlantic menhaden has declined 65% since 1991. Current landings data from NMFS reports the landing for Atlantic menhaden through July 31, 1999 are running 37.4% below the past five year average and that landings are being supported almost entirely by the Age-2 year class, which currently accounts for approximately 77% of the total landings.

The CBARF independent study was conducted by James Price from 1997 to 1998, however, the findings correlated very closely with the work currently in progress by UMES. This work was not published, however some of the results from my study are on our website. This project was conducted to determine the diet of striped bass in the Choptank River and was not intended to be a baywide study. I am continuing to work with and provide striped bass for the bioenergetics study being conducted by the UMES at this time. Since I am now working with the UMES and MD-DNR to provide striped bass for their health and diet studies I have discontinued my independent work. I believe the UMES study should be considered the most reliable data for current information concerning the diet of striped bass.

If there are further issues that I did not explain to Mr. Travelstead, or didn’t answer to your satisfaction in this letter, please get in touch and I will try to be of further assistance.

Thank you,

James E. Price

cc: John Dunnigan, ASMFC
Joseph Desfosse, ASMFC
Congressman Wayne Gilchrest