- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

You can’t find anyone around the shores of the Chesapeake Bay who doesn’t have an opinion on the scarcity of menhaden, a small and oily fish that is at the center of decades-old arguments about potential overfishing by selfish commercial interests.

Talk to saltwater sport fishermen in Maryland and Virginia and they will tell you the rockfish (striped bass) they are catching look undernourished, with skin blemishes that some believe are a result of a lack of proper nutrition — which primarily is made up of menhaden.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and its Atlantic Menhaden Management Board recently approved an addendum to its Interstate Fishery Management Plan that modifies the plan’s biological reference points, schedule for stock assessments and habitat provisions regarding this highly important predator forage species. It also is used for various industrial products, including fish oils, vitamins and animal feed.

The addendum is based in part on the recommendations of a menhaden technical committee, which found in its 2003 stock assessment that menhaden are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring on a coastwide basis. This assessment alone will give concerned sport anglers a massive headache because they believe the exact opposite is true.

The latest menhaden population assessment by the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review Panel uses a new modeling approach and fecundity-based biological reference points to determine stock status. These reference points, the ASMFC says, are more accurate and take into account the number of mature ova (eggs). This is a significant departure from the way menhaden assessments have been conducted in the past. The addendum changes the plan’s fishing mortality target and threshold levels as recommended by the technical committee.

The ASMFC’s management board also will address concerns regarding the possible localized depletion of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay. A workshop is scheduled Oct.12-14 that will examine the menhaden’s ecological role, especially as a forage fish, and identify management options with respect to this role. Workshop participants will include state, federal and university personnel with expertise in the ecological role of Atlantic menhaden, predator-prey interactions, localized depletion and fisheries ecosystem plans.

The entire addendum can be seen on the commission’s Web site at www.asmfc.org or can be obtained by contacting the commission at 202/289-6400.

Meanwhile, we doubt that anyone at the ASMFC can convince Marylanders and Virginians that all is OK with menhaden populations.

Muzzleloaders watch New Jersey — A bill is being considered in New Jersey that would ban hunting with blackpowder, muzzleloading firearms.

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance says State Senate Bill 1546, sponsored by Sen. John Adler, a Democrat from Cherry Hill, redefines an illegal, destructive device as any weapon capable of firing a projectile .50 caliber or greater. If passed, it would outlaw muzzleloading rifles because the vast majority of the old-style hunting guns are .50 caliber or bigger.

The legislature is in recess until the fall session, but the state senate’s Law and Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee already has met to consider the bill.

If New Jersey passes this dangerous bill, you can bet some nutcase in Maryland will try the same. In Virginia it won’t be as easy. In fact, as concerns guns and legal ownership of same as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, Virginia is light years ahead of Maryland in recognizing the rights the Founding Fathers wanted us to guard zealously.

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

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