- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Not long ago, when I wrote about the plight of the menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay, blaming a large part of the lack of these important forage fish on commercial operators in Virginia, I received a number of nasty letters, several from faraway Louisiana and Mississippi, all of them accusing me of being a jerk who simply doesn’t want to understand the economic importance of this small, oily fish.

As you might know, the Chesapeake’s menhaden are netted into oblivion by the netters, all in the name of making certain oils, fish meal, cosmetics, medicines, etc., but nothing that couldn’t be manufactured from other, less threatened sources. It also serves as a prime forage fish for hungry striped bass, bluefish, sea trout and other species. Not only that, sportfishing has suffered because of the bigger fish not eating enough. Size, as well as appearance, of many of the fish leaves a lot to be desired. And if you want to talk about economic importance, ask the state of Virginia how much money sportfishing generates. It’s incredible. Menhaden netters can’t compete with it, so don’t give us economic pep talks.

Poison pen mail aside, what seemed odd at the time was that the very people who now are calling on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to intervene and halt the slaughter, never bothered to jump into the fray to answer the charges against a sportfishing advocate — me. Maybe they don’t read newspapers. Commercial netters, however, do.

At any rate, a number of fishing and conservation organizations, including the Coastal Conservation Association, have announced the formation of “Menhaden Matter,” a cooperative effort to protect Atlantic menhaden from industrial harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay by Virginia-based purse seine operators.

The ASMFC knows there is a problem with Atlantic menhaden stocks in the Chesapeake Bay, but it also is no secret that the ASMFC worries far more about commercial interests, its protests to the contrary notwithstanding.

Tthe ASMFC is using a stock assessment that its own scientists admit cannot detect localized depletion in the bay. Says the CCA: “The other shortcoming of the Atlantic menhaden management plan is its inability to consider [the] menhaden’s ecological role both as forage base for predators and as a filter feeder.”

We wish the affected parties luck in resolving the problem. But don’t get your hopes up.

Stocking Virginia bass? — During a recent public meeting of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, problems were explored concerning largemouth bass fishing in the state’s tidal waters. Some 80 people attended the meeting, including tournament bass fishermen and bass guides.

During one part of the get-together, a number of bass anglers proposed the state to come up with a bass stamp to provide funds for restocking tidal water bass. The cost for such a stamp would be $50 for tournament anglers and $10 for all other bass fishermen. It should be noted that the state did not propose this.

One answer might be to consult Maryland’s DNR and its tidal water bass biologists and learn what they’re doing to make the state’s tidal rivers a good hunting ground for largemouth bass.

Chesapeake fly fishing clinic — Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Hanover, Md., invites the public to come to a free Chesapeake Bay fly-fishing mini clinic conducted by Darren Rickwood on Nov.20 at 10a.m.

You’ll learn how to choose the proper rod and reel, select fly lines, flies, and also where and when to fish stripers, bluefish, sea trout and other species.

You should pre-register by phoning 410/689-2500, ext. 4043. But walk-ins also are welcome. For more information about Rickwood, visit chesapeakebayadventures.com.

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

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