Pictured above is a small, densely-packed pod of menhaden. (photo: Billy Mitchell)
Anglers across the Atlantic coast are aware of menhaden’s vital importance to our fisheries. They’re essential in the diets of our favorite inshore game fish like striped bass and bluefish, but they also contribute a massive percentage to the diets of larger predators, marine mammals and sea birds. But the annual harvest of over 100-million pounds of menhaden in Chesapeake Bay—the Atlantic coast’s largest striped bass nursery— is depleting the food source that directly supports striped bass populations.
Omega Protein, a division of Cooke Inc., is the culprit of this massive menhaden depletion. They commercially harvest the oily baitfish fish en masse each year, before they are ground up and reduced to make fish meal, pet food and other products.
According to the latest science, menhaden reduction fishing contributes to a nearly 30-percent decline in striped bass numbers coastwide. As striped bass populations and stock surveys continue to dwindle, the recreational fishing community and associated conservation groups are pushing Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to implement regulations that would significantly limit, if not end, the mass harvest of menhaden until science-based evidence proves that it does not negatively impact striped bass populations. Organizations including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, and the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association are dedicated to maintaining the health of the Bay, the region’s economy, and the broader marine ecosystem in the Atlantic.
“Virginia has an immense responsibility to the Bay ecosystem and anglers up and down the East Coast, where recreational fishing for striped bass is a way of life,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We’re making sure that there is national attention on this effort to move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Bay, an iconic fishing destination in its own right, and working closely with fisheries managers in the Atlantic and Gulf to account for the critical role of menhaden in the marine food chain.”
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission has an opening to change menhaden regulations this October. Sign the petition here to let these decision-makers know that you support moving menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay.