Striped Bass, Menhaden, Blue Crabs
The Bay’s critters—its crabs, oysters, and rockfish—are among the most tangible things we love about the Bay. Their
numbers fluctuate constantly, and while some change occurs naturally as in the influence of climate
on rockfish spawning success, man’s activities—pollution, habitat destruction, and over harvesting—can influence their
numbers, too. Below is news on the three populations that man is attempting to expand through fisheries conservation.
The number of striped bass (rockfish or “stripers”), coast-
wide, has declined steadily since its peak in 2004.
The recreational catch has dropped over 60 percent since
its peak in 2006. Rockfish have been stressed by
low-oxygen levels and a reduction in menhaden, their
primary food source. The population drop has been
noticeable particularly in the Gulf of Maine where striped
bass annually migrate from the Chesapeake. These are
both signs for concern and have prompted regulators to
consider cutting back on rockfish catches by up to
Poor reproduction is a possible factor in the decline, but
a more likely culprit is poor survival rates of rockfish while
in the Chesapeake Bay because of mycobacteriosis—a disease
that infects up to 70 percent of the Bay’s rockfish. Stresses
from poor water quality and poor nutrition are thought to
impair their immune systems and encourage the disease.
Atlantic menhaden are at their lowest level on record—
about eight percent of their original abundance—and overfishing has occurred in 32 of the last 54 years. Such was the
conclusion of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries
Commission’s (ASMFC) new scientific assessment of the
population. As a result, ASMFC is preparing to tighten its
standards for menhaden fishing to rebuild the population.
Often called “the most important fish in the sea,” men-
The 2011 Chesapeake blue crab population is almost double its 2008 size—when science-based crabbing rules were
put in place. The increase has meant greater catches for
crabbers even at the conservative catch rates now allowed.
But we still have a long way to go “…to achieve our goal of
having a biologically stable stock with a robust harvest,”
according to Virginia’s Fisheries Chief Jack Travelstead.
haden filter plankton from coastal waters and serve as a
major food source for striped bass and a range of other
species. The public has until November 1, 2011, to offer
comments to the commission regarding its menhaden
management plan that would set a target population level
of 20, 30, or 40 percent of its original level. Letters and
e-mails to ASMFC and to coastal governors’ offices urging
strong menhaden conservation standards will help. For
more information visit www.asmfc.org.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) recently released a new scientific assessment
of the crab population. NOAA’s report shows that if
Maryland and Virginia stay the course, the Bay’s crab population could return to levels not seen since the 1960s.
This will benefit both the crabs and the economy in the
CBF Fisheries Director Bill
Goldsborough grew up on the
Eastern Shore and got his
inspiration from fishing the
Bay for rockfish with his dad.