The rebound of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is welcome news, and demonstrates how effectively our saltwater fisheries can be managed when there is the will to do so. But what about Atlantic Menhaden, a vitally important forage fish, whose numbers have plummeted to an all time low?
The latest Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission data show that the population of coastal Menhaden has declined an alarming 88% since 1984. To their credit, the ASMFC has finally acknowledged the depleted state of Menhaden, and has committed to re-examining the reference points used in assessing the viability of the stock.
Why has Virginia not recognized the plight of this keystone species, and acted to rebuild the stock by limiting the commercial harvest, much of which occurs in our state waters? At least part of the answer lies in the bizarre jurisdictional arrangement in place for managing Menhaden in Virginia. Even though the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) was established to manage Virginia’s saltwater finfish and shellfish, the Virginia General Assembly has insisted on maintaining jurisdiction over this singular fishery. Accordingly, they share the responsibility for the depleted state of Menhaden.
A political organization which meets once a year, possesses no expertise in fisheries management, and accepts donations from the industry it’s supposed to manage, has no business controlling this critical fishery. Repeated efforts to transfer management of the Menhaden fishery to the VMRC, where it belongs, have met with well financed opposition from the Menhaden reduction industry.
Blue crab populations rebounded nicely when reasonable harvest regulations were introduced. Now the General Assembly needs to act promptly to begin restoring an at-risk Menhaden population. Transferring management of the fishery to the pros at VMRC would be a good start.
Coastal Conservation Association -Virginia