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Atlantic Menhaden Abundance

Atlantic menhaden are managed on a coastwide basis. Currently, Potomac River catch-per-unit effort (CPUE) data is used as a proxy for relative coastwide abundance. Catch-per-unit-effort is a measure of fishing success.


Atlantic menhaden play an important ecological role in the Bay. They are food for top predators such as striped bass. The Chesapeake Bay is an important nursery area supporting juvenile menhaden that will contribute to the overall Atlantic coast adult Atlantic menhaden stock.

Atlantic menhaden are managed under the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) using a coastwide total allowable catch (TAC) that is allocated among coastal states based on average state landings from 2009 through 2011. An index of abundance is developed from the Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) pound net catch-per-unit effort (CPUE) data. This index is currently used by ASMFC as a proxy for relative coastwide abundance, but new indices are being developed through the 2014 benchmark stock assessment that span almost the entire coast.


There is no specific Chesapeake Bay abundance target for Atlantic menhaden because the species is managed as single stock unit from Maine to Florida, including the Chesapeake Bay.

Long-term trend (1988-2012)

The PRFC Atlantic menhaden index hit a low point in 1990, but over the last six years has recently seen some of its highest values since 1988. Before the data collection temporarily stopped in the 1980s, the index reached a high point in 1978.

Short-term trend (2003-2012)

The index peaked in 2012 while its lowest point occurred in 2003.

Change from previous year (2011-2012)

The index increased to the highest peak in the last decade in 2012.

Additional Information

Atlantic Menhaden Management

Biological reference points (targets and thresholds) based on fecundity and fishing mortality rates are used to assess the coastwide stock status.  The latest Atlantic menhaden stock assessment concluded that overfishing is occurring, but it is unclear whether the stock is overfished. Sensitivity runs of the Statistical Catch-at-Age (SCA) model used in the most recent assessment produced some conflicting results with regards to overfished status. The next benchmark stock assessment is currently underway and is scheduled for review at the end of 2014.

The Atlantic menhaden fishery provides fish meal, fish oil and bait for other fisheries along the Atlantic Coast. Most Atlantic menhaden landings in the Chesapeake Bay occur in Virginia. The coastwide TAC is allocated to Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions as follows:

  • Virginia: 85.32 percent
  • PRFC: 0.62 percent
  • Maryland: 1.37 percent

Atlantic Menhaden Historic Population Trends

Atlantic menhaden stocks were drastically reduced in the 1960s, leading to the closure of many Atlantic menhaden reduction factories. As population size decreased, the age structure also changed. Fish older than age 3 were scarce or non-existent in many areas along the Atlantic coast.

The population began to recover in the early 1970s, and catches continued to improve into the early 1980s.

ASMFC Menhaden Information: http://www.asmfc.org/species/atlantic-menhaden

Source of Data

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)

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