- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

We join the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) in its call for all stakeholders to get involved in a critical situation facing the Chesapeake Bay: the declining numbers of an oily baitfish known as the menhaden and how that can affect other fish species that rely on it as a source of food.

Said the NCMC: “The impact of the depletion in Chesapeake Bay of Atlantic menhaden, a critical source of forage for striped bass and other predators, will be assessed this summer.”

Several recreational fishing groups and environmental organizations got involved with the multi-state Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to get scientists and interested parties to examine the status of the menhaden and its ecological role as a forage fish species.

“Emphasis will be on the implications of industrial scale fishing of menhaden concentrated in the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary,” the NCMC said. “The findings from these experts will serve as the basis for consideration of interim management measures to protect menhaden abundance at the ASMFC’s annual meeting in November.”

After last week’s ASMFC meeting and the commission’s willingness to look at the problem concerning the menhaden population in the Chesapeake Bay — menhaden are not plentiful in the Chesapeake but are said to be viable in other parts of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico — local sport anglers and ecologists now are satisfied with some movement in the right direction.

“We commend the ASMFC for taking a pro-active approach to conserving menhaden and protecting the health of the Chesapeake ecosystem [that] means so much to so many citizens along the East Coast,” said Ken Hinman, president of the NCMC.

“According to experts with NOAA Fisheries, the abundance of menhaden, also known as bunker, is near historic lows. Scientists, recreational anglers and conservationists are increasingly concerned about the impact of large scale netting of menhaden on the resurgent population of striped bass, which relies on menhaden as its primary food. In addition, menhaden are the Bay’s principle filter feeders, consuming decaying plant matter and excess nutrients to reduce the amount of oxygen-robbing algae and the creation of dead zones,” Hinman said.

Meanwhile, a menhaden draft addendum will be available sometime this month on the ASFMC’s Web site, www.asmfc.org, under Breaking News. Public hearings will be in June and July. Public comment should be forwarded to Nancy Wallace, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1444 Eye Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; fax 202/289-6051; or comments@asmfc.org.

To see what the NCMC is doing, check its Web page, www.savethefish.org.

Fish kills in upper Chesapeake — The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is investigating reports of fish kills in tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay north of Bloody Point on the Eastern Shore and the Rhode River on the Western Shore that date to May 16.

The kills appear to be species specific — an estimated 95 percent of the fish were white perch — and in most cases involve 100 fish or less. It is possible the sudden rise in water temperatures stressed the perch, lowering their resistance to disease.

Water samples taken where the kills occurred revealed neither high levels of pollution nor natural factors (such as low dissolved oxygen) that could lead to fish mortality. Similar fish kills involving white perch occurred in 1998 and 2002.

Citizens are encouraged to report suspected fish kills to 800/285-8195.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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