Imagine if there was piece of wood at the bottom of your home which provided the structural support needed to keep your house from falling down. Or imagine that piece of wood doing the same thing for a city. Or an ocean. Or for a bay named Chesapeake. Metaphorically, that piece of wood is what many say menhaden is. Menhaden is a species of fish at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay food chain – as such, it supports the entire ecosystem. It actually has a bunch of names, including pogy. Over the years, there has been concern, actually lots of it, voiced about menhaden depletion due to commercial fishing. Despite what seems like an abundance of evidence to support these concerns, compelling documentaries made about menhaden in the past and currently being produced, and no shortage of news reports, protections have been few and the problem compounded by being a multi-state issue, with an extremely well-financed, commercial menhaden fishing industry at its core. This isn’t a fish consumed by humans, but one that is used in a seemingly endless variety of products all over the world. In other words, there’s lots of money in this fish.
My education about menhaden began several years ago in Reedville, Virginia, the epicenter of the menhaden fishing industry on the Chesapeake. My husband and I were cruising up the bay on a boat and decided to stop for the night in Reedville. I love fishing ports, always have, but this one was different – a lovely town, but in the heat of this particular summer evening, it was permeated by the smell of dead menhaden. I’ll never forget it. That said, there is an entire group of people in Reedville and beyond that make their living off of this fish, working for a giant company called Omega. In a what if scenario – could there be menhaden farming/aquaculture like we’ve seen with oysters, as a viable alternative to taking them from the Chesapeake? I don’t have the answer.
This issue of menhaden is being addressed right now in a way that apparently hasn’t happened before and this involves the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Watch this video of John Page Williams of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). He was speaking at an educational meeting of the Severn River Association in Annapolis. The CBF is urging the public to weigh in on the issue, specifically to advocate for Option E through public comments to the ASMFC. Public comments are currently being accepted through 5 pm October 24. Learn more at cbf.org/menhaden.
Also, if you’re interested in what a Chesapeake Bay waterman has to say about this issue, here’s an interview I did recently.