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A Future for Menhaden

"History shows that responsibly managing fisheries pays off for people and nature."

By: Tom McCann

In December 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved historic changes to the management plan for menhaden, including the first ever coast-wide annual catch limit for the fishery. The Atlantic menhaden population recently hit historic lows and action was needed for the fish, the numerous other marine species that prey on menhaden, and ultimately the industries and communities that depend on a healthy Atlantic. The Commission overwhelmingly approved the cuts with support from The Nature Conservancy and a host of partner groups including recreational fishing and business interests.

“It’s a new day for menhaden”, said Jay Odell, Mid-Atlantic director for the Nature Conservancy. “By following the science and responsibly managing menhaden, we can support our coastal economies while helping secure a food supply for whales, birds, and other marine-life.”

Menhaden have been called the “most important fish in the sea” because of their crucial role as a food source for the ocean. A recovered stock will improve the health and resilience of the marine food web in the Atlantic and will enhance the long term sustainability of coastal communities and industries that depend on the harvest of menhaden and other fish species. Locally, the Chesapeake Bay is the most important nursery for Atlantic menhaden which are found along the coast from Florida to Maine. Schools of menhaden migrate from the Chesapeake Bay to distant waters, providing a critically important food source for many of our favorite seafood options, from local fare like striped bass and bluefish to cod in New England.

“History shows that responsibly managing fisheries pays off for people and nature. Striped bass and blue crabs are local examples where smart management has helped populations rebound – with better data reporting and enforcement we think the menhaden fishery can enjoy the same success.”

Like with most conservation stories, our work with menhaden does not end with this one vote, as ensuring successful implementation of new management measures at the state level remains important. The December vote was historic, and we applaud the efforts of members, supporters, partners, and the Commission itself for charting a new course for this small fish with an outsized role in the health of our ocean.

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