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Atlantic Menhaden Abundance

Atlantic menhaden are managed as a single unit from Maine to Florida. While there is no Chesapeake Bay-specific target for menhaden abundance, an index of relative adult abundance for the North Atlantic coast is determined with data collected on trawl surveys of the waters of Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia (including the Bay). Known as the Northern Adult Index (NAD) of abundance, the relative abundance of adult menhaden along the North Atlantic coast has climbed steadily over the last decade. Abundance reached a 25-year peak index value of 1.97 in 2012 but fell to a value of 0.98 in 2013.



Importance

Atlantic menhaden are critical to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The fish filters pollutants out of the water and is a source of food for striped bass and other species. The Bay provides a nursery to young menhaden, supporting the juveniles that will join the Atlantic coast’s adult menhaden stock.

Menhaden are harvested commercially for bait and for an industry that uses them to produce fishmeal and fish oil. According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) 2014 Benchmark Stock Assessment, the menhaden population along the North Atlantic coast is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

Goal

There is no Chesapeake Bay-specific target for Atlantic menhaden abundance. But in 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program adopted a goal to improve our understanding of the role forage fish play in the Bay and develop a strategy for assessing the forage fish base available as food for predatory species.

Long-term trend (1980-2013)

The relative abundance of adult menhaden along the North Atlantic coast (Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) has experienced three noticeable peaks since 1980. The first occurred in 1982, with a Northern Adult Index (NAD) of abundance value of 2.37. The second occurred 1986, with an index value of 4.78. The third occurred in 2012 after almost a decade of steady increase, with an index value of 1.97. The NAD fell to a value of 0.98 in 2013.

Short-term trend (2003-2013)

The relative abundance of adult menhaden along the North Atlantic coast steadily increased between 2003 and 2012. Abundance reached a 25-year peak Northern Adult Index (NAD) value of 1.97 in 2012, but fell to a value of 0.98 in 2013.

Change from previous year (2012-2013)

Between 2012 and 2013, the relative abundance of adult menhaden along the North Atlantic coast decreased. Abundance reached a 25-year peak Northern Adult Index (NAD) value of 1.97 in 2012, but fell to a value of 0.98 in 2013.

Additional Information

Atlantic menhaden management

Atlantic menhaden are managed under the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The ASMFC has placed a cap on the amount of menhaden that can be harvested from the Chesapeake Bay, allocating its coast-wide total allowable catch (TAC) on a state by state basis. Most menhaden landings in the region occur in Virginia. The coast-wide TAC is allocated to Bay jurisdictions as follows:

  • Virginia: 85.32 percent
  • Potomac River Fisheries Commission: 0.62 percent
  • Maryland: 1.37 percent

Indices of relative abundance for adult and juvenile menhaden were updated for the ASMFC’s 2014 Benchmark Stock Assessment using fishery-independent survey data from the Atlantic coastal states. Targets and thresholds for fishing mortality and population fecundity (a measure of reproductive capacity) are used to assess the status of the coastal stock. According to the 2014 Benchmark Stock Assessment, Atlantic menhaden are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

Source of Data

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)

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