Future of the forage base is on the line
Voice your support for a change in the management of menhaden

One of the first lessons anglers learn is to find the fish you must first find the bait.  A healthy forage base is critical to both the health of important gamefish such as striped bass and king mackerel, and to overall fishing success.  A healthy forage base leads to healthy fish populations.

For decades, menhaden have been managed like virtually every other marine species – as a single species – rather than for its critical role in the marine ecosystem as a whole. After years of work by CCA and many other groups in the angling community, we now have a chance to change that short-sighted management philosophy.

At a special meeting in November, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will finalize a management plan that will either recognize the critical ecological role that menhaden play in the marine environment, or continue current practices that will soon allow sizeable increases in commercial harvest.

Between now and the final decision, conservationists have an opportunity to make their voice heard at a series of public hearings on Amendment 3 to the Menhaden Management Plan. To help conservationists prepare to comment on this vital issue in person, CCA has prepared an Angler’s Guide on this complicated amendment on the options that best serve the needs of the marine environment. If you cannot attend a hearing, online comments are also being accepted – click the link below to send a message to your state’s ASMFC commissioners.

This is a watershed moment years in the making that will determine how one of the most important fish in the marine food chain will be managed in the future. Please take a few moments to urge managers to manage menhaden for the future.



1.  Write ASMFC and let them know you want menhaden management changed.  The ASMFC will hold a final vote on Amendment 3, and will set the 2018 catch limit, over the course of a two day meeting November 13-14 near Baltimore, MD. 

2. Public comment will be accepted at public hearings and in writing, until 5:00 PM (EST) on October 20, 2017 and should be sent to Megan Ware, FMP Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at comments@asmfc.org  (Subject line: Draft Amd. 3).

3.  You can also write your ASMFC Commissioners, their contact info can be found here:


David Blazer , MD DNR : david.blazer@maryland.gov

Rachel Dean, Gov. Appointee : chesapeakefishing@juno.com

Allison Colden, Leg. Species Specific Proxy : AColden@cbf.org

3.  Attend a public hearing near you.  The schedule can be found here:

Maryland:  9/18 6-8PM

Anne Arundel Community College

Cade Center for the Fine Arts – Room 219

101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD

4.  You can read the draft Amendment document here:

Tell the ASMFC:

A.  The important ecological role of menhaden must be factored into management. 

B.  Please make sure to state clearly in your comments your support for Issue 2.6 Reference Points – Option E.



One of the first lessons anglers learn is to find the fish you must first find the bait.  A healthy bait population, (i.e. forage base) is critical to both the health of important gamefish such as striped bass, red drum, bluefish and king mackerel, and to overall fishing success.  A healthy forage base leads to healthy fish populations.

Menhaden are one of the most important forage species on the Atlantic coast. They are found in the diet of virtually all important fish predators, as well as many birds and marine mammals.  In the simplest terms, the primary ecological attribute for menhaden is their sheer abundance.  Nearly every predatory fish, mammal and bird eats them at some point in their life cycle.

Menhaden are a lower trophic order species, which means they “graze” on the small organisms in the water that convert the sun’s energy into cellulose.  Menhaden are the key ingredient in the ecosystem that literally converts the sun’s energy to protein.  In a very real sense, menhaden convert sunlight into pounds of fish.

For years, menhaden have been managed like virtually every other marine species – as a single species.  Scientists studying the Atlantic menhaden population have examined its health with statistical models that only look at menhaden.  We believe it is time to take the next step in management and view menhaden health through the lens of its critical role in the marine ecosystem.


This is a complicated amendment, and so we will distill it down to the points we feel are important for you to address and comment on.

Amendment 3 deals with many different management issues. Of primary importance to the coastal ecosystem is section 2.6: Reference Points. These options will determine how coastwide catch limits are set into the future.

Option E: BERP Workgroup Continues to Develop Menhaden-Specific Ecological Reference Points (ERPs) with Interim Use of 75% Target, 40% Threshold.

Under this option, a Ftarget that achieves 75% unfished biomass and a Fthreshold which achieves 40% unfished biomass are used to manage the Atlantic menhaden fishery while the BERP Workgroup continues to develop menhaden-specific ERPs. Based on results of the 2017 Stock Assessment Update, the Ftarget that achieves 75% unfished biomass is 0.160, and the Fthreshold that achieves 40% unfished biomass is 1.493. As of the terminal year of the 2017 Stock Assessment Update, F2016=0.204, which is above the target but below the threshold (Table 1, Figure 2), indicating overfishing is not occurring.


While it sounds complicated, Option E is based on a simple common sense idea: we should maintain a large menhaden population to help support the ecosystem. The best, peer-reviewed science supports this alternative.  Building and maintaining higher menhaden abundance is good for predators, commercial and recreational fishermen, wildlife businesses, and communities along the East Coast.

By adopting Option E, the Commission will commit to managing to more conservative goals: a higher management target (75 percent of the historic menhaden population) with a more protective bottom-line threshold (40 percent of the historic menhaden population) than it does currently under “single-species” management.

Interim ERPs are needed so that menhaden are properly managed while ecosystem models are developed over the next few years. Option E provides the Management Board with the opportunity to move toward the target at a reasoned pace, while the scientists complete more detailed models over the next several years.

Atlantic menhaden are recovering, but some of their primary predators like striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, cod, king mackerel, and cobia are struggling. These predators need food to thrive and menhaden are one of the most important forage species overall for the East Coast.  The sole purpose of Option E is to enable the menhaden population to continue to grow to a high level and recover its historic geographic range from Maine to Florida to provide for predators, fisheries, and ecosystem services.

The current approach that ASMFC uses for setting catch limits is wrong, and waiting years to adopt an ecosystem approach (Options A or B) is unacceptable. It is time for ASMFC to move away from a single-species management approach that only considers the menhaden population and not their predators. This doesn’t work for a forage fish like Atlantic menhaden.  Option A would perpetuate reference points that result in misleading technical advice that says massive catch increases are “sustainable,” with no understanding of the negative impacts to predators, and Option B would keep that system in place for years to come until complex models may be ready for use.

Menhaden were once more plentiful and distributed in every Atlantic state and recent trends show that it can happen again if managed properly.


We’ve come a long way in managing menhaden over the last 20 or so years, primarily through the actions or ordinary anglers like yourself.  But more action is needed now.

Option E is a historic chance to invest in the future of the menhaden resource, improving both fishing opportunities and ecosystem health, and benefiting all stakeholders over time.

Over the past few years, Commissioners, and the vast majority of the public who have commented, have made it clear that status quo is a fundamentally flawed basis for management. Keeping the status quo in place with Options A or B is unacceptable when there is a much better choice – Option E – on the table.

Ecological management of menhaden and effective conservation will improve the productivity of this resource over time, increasing menhaden’s value to every state and stakeholder by improving recreational fishing, commercial fishing and seafood industries, and wildlife and tourism businesses that all depend on an abundance of menhaden.




Coastal Conservation Association Maryland