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Archive for the 'Fisheries Conservation Talk' Category

Feb 23 2011

Report Finds Menhaden Decline Effects Health and Migration of Striped Bass

Striped Bass Patterns change because of lack of menhadenAn ongoing study by the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation (CBEF) determined that low numbers of Atlantic menhaden, the predominate striped bass prey species within the Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic coast,  have affected the growth, health and migration of striped bass.  Since 2004, the CBEF, with assistance from East Carolina University, has examined over 7,000 striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean along the Virginia and North Carolina coast.
Data collected by this study indicates that malnutrition observed in 16” to 24” striped bass from Maryland’s section of the Chesapeake Bay (upper Bay) is a consequence of ecological depletion (insufficient numbers of young menhaden less than 10” and bay anchovy).  Malnutrition is also exacerbated by low numbers of other forage species.  CBEF studies of resident and migratory striped bass determined that in most years since 2005, menhaden constituted over 75% of their diet (by weight).  Within the Chesapeake Bay, striped bass growth decreased, a significant percentage of striped bass have mycobacterial infections and striped bass natural mortality rates have risen.
Diminishing striped bass numbers culminated in threatened species status in the upper Bay in 1984 and a fishing moratorium in 1985.  In 1990 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which is responsible for the management of menhaden and striped bass, partially reopened the fishery in state waters and in 1995 declared striped bass fully recovered.  Within the upper Bay a harvest cap was imposed for the first time and the 14” minimum size was raised to 18” (4-5 years of age).  This size limit protected more than 90% of immature female striped bass which historically emigrated to coastal waters and became ocean residents before reaching 18”; only re-entering the Chesapeake Bay on spring spawning migrations after reaching maturity at age 6 or older.  Within ocean waters the minimum size was set at 28” to allow most females to spawn at least once before reaching harvest size.  These actions resulted in a greatly expanded striped bass population, and intensified feeding on menhaden and adult bay anchovy in ocean waters.
During the early 1990s, coincidental with burgeoning striped bass predation on menhaden and bay anchovy, adult menhaden were severely overfished off New England concurrent with intensive fishing by the purse seine reduction fishery (large scale harvest of fish for processing into products such a fish oil and meal) in the Virginia section of the Chesapeake Bay (lower Bay) and in ocean areas from New Jersey to North Carolina.  The Omega Protein Corporation currently owns and operates the only remaining menhaden reduction fishery.  This fishery, the largest on the Atlantic coast, competes with striped bass, fish eating birds and many marine predators.  During 2009 and 2010, approximately 500 million young, immature menhaden (less than 10”), about 43% of the total numbers landed, were harvested in the lower bay and nearby coastal waters by Omega Protein.  These immature menhaden are crucial to the diet of the Bay’s malnourished 16” to 24” striped bass and are supposed to be protected according to ASMFC’s ecological objectives in their Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden.
This study revealed that large numbers of striped bass greater than 28”, predominately females, which historically migrated from summer habitat in New England waters during the fall to feeding grounds in coastal ocean waters off Virginia and North Carolina, now arrive in the upper Bay during late fall and remain through the spring spawning season – a previously undocumented event.  This study also documented a significant increase in the population of immature female striped bass in the upper Bay during October through December of 2010.  These females represented 25% of striped bass in the 18” to 24” range; two times higher than the 12% average in 2008 & 2009 and four times higher than the 6% average in 2006 & 2007.  Immature females in this size range normally inhabit ocean waters and are protected by the 28” minimum size limit.  However, within the Chesapeake Bay, immature female striped bass greater than 18” can be harvested by recreational and commercial fisheries.
Diet analyses, body fat indices and the unprecedented shift in established feeding patterns by migratory striped bass indicate that menhaden and bay anchovy are severely depleted on their coastal feeding grounds.  Consequently, migratory striped bass that over-winter in the Chesapeake Bay are competing with resident striped bass for menhaden of all sizes.
ASMFC decisions that address menhaden overfishing must also resolve the fundamental problem – ecological depletion of Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

An ongoing study by the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation (CBEF) determined that low numbers of Atlantic menhaden, the predominate striped bass prey species within the Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic coast,  have affected the growth, health and migration of striped bass.  Since 2004, the CBEF, with assistance from East Carolina University, has examined over 7,000 striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean along the Virginia and North Carolina coast.
Data collected by this study indicates that malnutrition observed in 16” to 24” striped bass from Maryland’s section of the Chesapeake Bay (upper Bay) is a consequence of ecological depletion (insufficient numbers of young menhaden less than 10” and bay anchovy).  Malnutrition is also exacerbated by low numbers of other forage species.  CBEF studies of resident and migratory striped bass determined that in most years since 2005, menhaden constituted over 75% of their diet (by weight).  Within the Chesapeake Bay, striped bass growth decreased, a significant percentage of striped bass have mycobacterial infections and striped bass natural mortality rates have risen.
Diminishing striped bass numbers culminated in threatened species status in the upper Bay in 1984 and a fishing moratorium in 1985.  In 1990 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which is responsible for the management of menhaden and striped bass, partially reopened the fishery in state waters and in 1995 declared striped bass fully recovered.  Within the upper Bay a harvest cap was imposed for the first time and the 14” minimum size was raised to 18” (4-5 years of age).  This size limit protected more than 90% of immature female striped bass which historically emigrated to coastal waters and became ocean residents before reaching 18”; only re-entering the Chesapeake Bay on spring spawning migrations after reaching maturity at age 6 or older.  Within ocean waters the minimum size was set at 28” to allow most females to spawn at least once before reaching harvest size.  These actions resulted in a greatly expanded striped bass population, and intensified feeding on menhaden and adult bay anchovy in ocean waters.
During the early 1990s, coincidental with burgeoning striped bass predation on menhaden and bay anchovy, adult menhaden were severely overfished off New England concurrent with intensive fishing by the purse seine reduction fishery (large scale harvest of fish for processing into products such a fish oil and meal) in the Virginia section of the Chesapeake Bay (lower Bay) and in ocean areas from New Jersey to North Carolina.  The Omega Protein Corporation currently owns and operates the only remaining menhaden reduction fishery.  This fishery, the largest on the Atlantic coast, competes with striped bass, fish eating birds and many marine predators.  During 2009 and 2010, approximately 500 million young, immature menhaden (less than 10”), about 43% of the total numbers landed, were harvested in the lower bay and nearby coastal waters by Omega Protein.  These immature menhaden are crucial to the diet of the Bay’s malnourished 16” to 24” striped bass and are supposed to be protected according to ASMFC’s ecological objectives in their Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden.
This study revealed that large numbers of striped bass greater than 28”, predominately females, which historically migrated from summer habitat in New England waters during the fall to feeding grounds in coastal ocean waters off Virginia and North Carolina, now arrive in the upper Bay during late fall and remain through the spring spawning season – a previously undocumented event.  This study also documented a significant increase in the population of immature female striped bass in the upper Bay during October through December of 2010.  These females represented 25% of striped bass in the 18” to 24” range; two times higher than the 12% average in 2008 & 2009 and four times higher than the 6% average in 2006 & 2007.  Immature females in this size range normally inhabit ocean waters and are protected by the 28” minimum size limit.  However, within the Chesapeake Bay, immature female striped bass greater than 18” can be harvested by recreational and commercial fisheries.
Diet analyses, body fat indices and the unprecedented shift in established feeding patterns by migratory striped bass indicate that menhaden and bay anchovy are severely depleted on their coastal feeding grounds.  Consequently, migratory striped bass that over-winter in the Chesapeake Bay are competing with resident striped bass for menhaden of all sizes.
ASMFC decisions that address menhaden overfishing must also resolve the fundamental problem – ecological depletion of Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

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Feb 11 2011

CCA North Carolina Seeks End to Trawling to Save Striped Bass

North Carolina Trawlers in Fishing Clothing Lateral Line BlogIn response to a rash of massive striped bass kills along the coast, CCA North Carolina will request the NC Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) to eliminate trawling of any kindas a permissible fishing gear for striped bass. The incidents, photographed and videotaped by recreational anglers in the area, were the result of commercial trawling operations in state waters and have prompted outrage up and down the East Coast. CCA North Carolina will request decisive action at the MFC meeting in Pine Knolls, Feb. 10-11.

“The MFC has an obligation to responsibly manage these resources,” said Jay Dail, Chairman of the CCA NC. “Allowing a fishery to dump thousands of dead stripers over the side as a regular course of doing business is not responsible management. At the very least, the Commission should immediately outlaw the use of indiscriminate, highly destructive trawls in state waters in favor of more selective gear.”

In response to the first of the striped bass kills on Jan. 21, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries implemented regulatory changes to address discards of striped bass in the commercial trawl fishery. The Division replaced the previous 50-fish-per-day commercial trip limit with a 2,000-pound-per-day trip limit. The action was intended to allow the commercial industry to keep fishing while avoiding regulatory discards. The plan failed as another fish kill event, complete with trails of dead, floating bass, were again witnessed and recorded.

CCA North Carolina will request the MFC to establish a commercial hook-and-line only fishery for striped bass, a far more selective gear that will prevent the tragic waste of striped bass common to trawls.

Sadly, the NC Fisheries Association’s response to the recent fish kills wasn’t about the unwanted loss of striped bass, but one of location, “The federal government obstinately refuses to allow an increase on commercial quota or any percentage rollover, and the EEZ is still closed. These boats wouldn’t be anywhere near these recreational boats who were taking all the videos if they didn’t have to stay within three miles.” stated its director.

“This isn’t a question of ‘getting away with it.’ It’s about a flagrant waste of a public resource. On top of that, the economic hit of denying those fish to recreational anglers should be a significant concern to the state,” said Jim Hardin, President of CCA NC. In 2000, a study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science indicated Virginia stood to generate about $181 million if the state allocated 100 percent of the striped bass to the recreational sector. Allocating 100 percent of that state’s stripers to the commercial industry would generate about $24 million. “Allowing this kind of destructive fishing practice to continue off our coast does not make sense at any level. It has to stop and we expect the MFC to take appropriate, effective action.”

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Feb 07 2011

Sporting Groups Nationwide Applaud EPA Plans to Study Bristol Bay’s Fish and Wildlife Resources

No Pebble Mine AlaskaHunting and fishing interests around the country have mobilized in recent years to protect the waters and lands of southwest Alaska’s famed Bristol Bay region. These groups are applauding today’s announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the agency is planning an assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed to better understand how future large-scale development projects may affect water quality and Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery. EPA initiated this assessment in response to concerns from federally-recognized tribes and others who petitioned the agency in 2010 to assess any potential risks to the watershed. “The potential development in the region is scary for sportsmen,” said Scott Hed, Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska. “Each year anglers and hunters make the trip to Alaska just for an opportunity to fish and hunt in the famous Bristol Bay watershed. Sportsmen and women from across the country have joined forces to stop plans by foreign mining interests that could turn the entire Bristol Bay region into a massive mining district. Today’s announcement by the EPA shows that the agency recognizes the threats posed by the proposed Pebble Mine project, and that it is better to address these very serious concerns up front rather than wait until it may be too late.” Over 325 sporting groups and businesses oppose the mining plans in Bristol Bay. Sporting conservation groups and trade associations include Dallas Safari Club, Trout Unlimited, Federation of Fly Fishers, European Fishing Tackle Trade Association, Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association, American Fly Fishing Trade Association, American Sportfishing Association, Izaak Walton League of America, Wildlife Forever, Delta Waterfowl Foundation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Bull Moose Sportsman’s Alliance, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, North American Fishing Club, North American Hunting Club, and the Campfire Club of America. Some of the most recognizable brands in hunting and fishing products have expressed their wishes to protect Bristol Bay as well, including Sturm, Ruger & Co., Savage Arms, Buck Knives, Hornady, Sitka, Filson, Orvis, Sage, Simms, ExOfficio, Patagonia, Scott, Hardy, and more than 150 others. “This is an issue that unites the complete spectrum of the sporting community,” continued Hed. “When you have got catch and release anglers and makers of fly rods and reels working in concert with big game hunters and firearm manufacturers, that’s a powerful set of interests – all in agreement that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed is simply the wrong idea in the wrong place. We look forward to working with the EPA and other decision makers as this public process to determine the fate of Bristol Bay moves forward.” Background Bristol Bay = International Fishing and Hunting Mecca The stakes are high for sporting interests in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, an area that is home to the world’s largest wild salmon runs, as well as some of the greatest trophy rainbow trout fishing and remote wilderness hunting on the planet. It’s a wild, remote and rugged place that is in the crosshairs of a plan to develop a massive mining district on millions of acres of state and federal lands. Commercial, sport, and subsistence fishing all depend on the wild salmon supported by Bristol Bay’s healthy waters. For thousands of years, Alaska natives have lived off Bristol Bay’s land, waters, and of course, its fish and wild game. Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest commercial wild sockeye salmon fishery, with earnings accounting for nearly 33% of Alaska’s total harvest earnings. The harvest and processing of Bristol Bay fish generates nearly $450 million a year and provides jobs for thousands. For more information on the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska visit: www.SportsmansAlliance4AK.org

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Jan 20 2011

Update on Atlantic Menhaden

Atlantic Menhaden Omega Protein This is an update on the plight of the Atlantic Menhaden by Charlie Hutchinson. Charlie has been working on the menhaden issue for many years as a representative of the Maryland Saltwater Sportsman Association (MSSA). You can find more information about Atlantic Menhaden and other of his articles on the Save Menhaden website

Menhaden Muddle: update # 17
by Charlie Hutchinson
There has been a considerable gap in time between Muddle #16 and #17. One of the reasons for the lack of commentary is the lack of any perceived action with respect to changes in menhaden regulation. However there are things occurring that have a bearing on what may or may not transpire at the next Menhaden Management Board meeting scheduled sometime in March.

First is a change in leadership on the Board. Mr. Lapoint (from Maine) is no longer the chairperson. Under his chairmanship the attitude of the Commissioners changed from apparent indifference to one of concern and the acceptance of the need for new management methods. Perhaps this was related to some degree to the situation in New England where abundance,or more properly lack thereof, of forage fish is having a significant impact on fishing both commercial and recreational. His replacement Mr. Daniels hails from North Carolina and that area has traditionally been more pro industry than pro conservation. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Board dynamics in March.

Second is the legislative activity in the state of Virginia. Five bills have been introduced relating to menhaden. Some are geared to transferring responsibility for managing  menhaden from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources commission. Others place limits and restrictions on the harvest in Virginia waters. Most seem to feel that Omega’s political influence needs to be blunted both in terms of more professional management and in terms of conservation.

Third, the Technical Committee has met prior to the March meeting where it is generally expected that they will announce that the revised assessment results are such that relative to the existing standards for menhaden abundance, the stock is being overfished. In addition they will be responding to the Boards requirement for them to provide new reference points for varying actions to rebuilding abundance by restricting harvest. Specifically the committee was directed to evaluate requirements to increase the age 3+ stock component to Continue Reading »

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Jan 19 2011

Menhaden Bills Await Your Action Contact Virginia Legislators Now

Atlantic MenhadenAtlantic Menhaden – Critical to coastal food chain

Five bills concerning menhaden are before the Virginia General Assembly. The bills are summarized below. You will no doubt want to contact members of the two committees (listed below), which will hear these bills, and express your desired action.

E-mails and letters are equally acceptable. You can also call and speak with the legislators’ assistants (listed with each senator or delegate below). By copying and pasting your e-mail message, the time required to contact all committee legislators can be minimized.

In addition to contacting the individual members of the two “Ag” committees, you should also contact your own delegate and senator (To identify them, click HERE).

See menhaden background info at bottom

SB765/HB2280 - Sen. Northam and Del. Cosgrove
Would transfer the authority to implement ASMFC menhaden fishery management plans from the General Assembly to the VMRC. The VMRC already executes ASMFC directives for all other saltwater species.

HB1656 - Del. Purkey
Would prohibit harvesting of menhaden with purse nets within one mile of shore of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton.

HB2369 – Del Knight
Would reduce current cap on menhaden harvest in Chesapeake Bay (109,020 metric tons) by 20% each year starting January, 2012.

HB1913 - Del. Miller
Would prohibit the harvest of menhaden by purse nets in the Rappahannock River and its tributaries.

HB2165 – Del. Abbitt
Would assess a fee of $10 per ton on menhaden harvested by purse seine in Virginia waters. Funds would be used to evaluate the menhaden fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.

Continue Reading »

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Jan 09 2011

Has overfishing ended? Top US scientist says yes

Has overfishing ended? Top US scientist says yes, but fishermen say cost was too high
Jay Lindsay, Associated Press

For the first time in at least a century, U.S. fishermen won’t take too much of any species from the sea, one of the nation’s top fishery scientists says.

The projected end of overfishing comes during a turbulent fishing year that’s seen New England fishermen switch to a radically new management system. But scientist Steve Murawski said that for the first time in written fishing history, which goes back to 1900, “As far as we know, we’ve hit the right levels, which is a milestone.”

“And this isn’t just a decadal milestone, this is a century phenomenon,” said Murawski, who retired last week as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service.

Murawski said it’s more than a dramatic benchmark — it also signals the coming of increasingly healthy stocks and better days for fishermen who’ve suffered financially. In New England, the fleet has deteriorated since the mid-1990s from 1,200 boats to only about 580, but Murawski believes fishermen may have already endured their worst times.

“I honestly think that’s true, and that’s why I think it’s a newsworthy event,” said Murawski, now a professor at the University of South Florida.

But fishermen and their advocates say ending overfishing came at an unnecessarily high cost. Dave Marciano fished out of Gloucester, an hour’s drive northeast of Boston, for three decades until he was forced to sell his fishing permit in June. He said the new system made it too costly to catch enough fish to stay in business.

“It ruined me,” said Marciano, 45. “We could have ended overfishing and had a lot more consideration for the human side of the fishery.”

An end to overfishing doesn’t mean all stocks are healthy, but scientists believe it’s a crucial step to getting there.

When fishermen are overfishing a species, they’re catching it at a rate scientists believe is too fast to ensure that the species can rebuild and then stay healthy. It’s different from when a species is overfished, which is when scientists believe its population is too low.

Murawski said it’s a nearly ironclad rule of fishery management that species become far more abundant when they’re being fished at the appropriate level, which is determined after considering factors such as a species’ life span and death rates.

A mandate to end overfishing by the 2010 fishing year — which concludes at different times in 2011, depending on the region — came in the 2007 reauthorization of the nation’s fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Murawski said the U.S. is the only country that has a law that defines overfishing and requires its fishermen not to engage in it.

“When you compare the United States with the European Union, with Asian countries, et cetera, we are the only industrialized fishing nation who actually has succeeded in ending overfishing,” he said.

Regulators say 37 stocks nationwide last year were being overfished (counting only those that live exclusively in U.S. waters); New England had the most with 10. But Murawski said management systems that emphasize strict catch limits have made a big difference, and New England just made the switch.

Fishermen there now work in groups called sectors to divide an annual quota of groundfish, which include cod, haddock and flounder. If they exceed their limits on one species, they’re forced to stop fishing on all species.

About two-thirds into the current fishing year, which ends April 30, federal data indicated New England fishermen were on pace to catch fewer than their allotted fish in all but one stock, Georges Bank winter flounder. But Murawski said he didn’t expect fishermen would exceed their quota on any stock.

In other regions with overfishing — the South Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean — regulators project catch limits and other measures will end overfishing this fishing year. Already, South Atlantic black grouper and Gulf of Mexico red snapper are no longer being overfished.

The final verification that overfishing has ended nationwide, at least for one fishing year, will come after detailed stock assessments.

It will be a “Pyrrhic victory” in hard-hit New England, said Brian Rothschild, a fisheries scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He said regulators could legally loosen the rules and allow fishermen to safely catch more fish, but regulators have refused to do it, and fishermen have needlessly been shut out from even healthy stocks.

The science is far from perfect, Marciano said. Regulators believed fishermen were overfishing pollock until new data last year indicated scientists had badly underestimated its population, he said. And some stocks, such as Gulf of Maine cod, have recovered even when fishermen were technically overfishing them.

“To say you can’t rebuild stocks while overfishing is occurring is an outright lie. We did it,” Marciano said.

Tom Nies, a fisheries analyst for regional New England regulators, said stocks can sometimes be boosted by variables such as strong births in a given year, but they’ll inevitably decline if overfishing continues on them.

Peter Shelley, senior counsel of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group, said the industry’s problems are rooted in years of overfishing, especially during the 1980s, not regulation.

“It was a bubble,” he said. “Fishermen were living in a bit of a fantasy world at that point, and it wasn’t something you could sustain.”

That’s why Murawski’s projection about the end of overfishing is “a very big deal,” he said.

“I think we’re just starting to see signs of a new future,” Shelley said.

What fisherman Steve Arnold, 46, sees in his home port of Point Judith, R.I., are fewer boats, older fishermen and “a lot of frowns on people’s faces.”

Overfishing might end this year, but the fleet has suffered and has an uncertain future, he said.

“I believe we can get to a better place, but the work isn’t done,” Arnold said. “We’re living through something that we’re learning as we go. It’s not a comfortable feeling.”

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Dec 21 2010

New Menhaden Legislation Introduced in Virginia for 2011 Session

NORTHAM AND COSGROVE INTRODUCE MENHADEN MANAGEMENT LEGISLATION IN VIRGINIA
Commonsense Transfer to VMRC Will Increase Regulatory Certainty, Protect Jobs
Menhaden Decline Commercial Fishing Menhaden Omega Protein

Senator Ralph S. Northam (D – Norfolk) has introduced SB 765 to transfer management authority for menhaden from the Virginia General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.  Delegate John A. Cosgrove (R – Chesapeake) will introduce an identical measure in the House of Delegates.  “This legislation is garnering rapidly increasing levels of bipartisan public support, because it is simply good government” Cosgrove said.  “We budget over $20 million a year for VMRC to manage our fisheries; we should let them do it.” Read more on the SaveMenhaden.org website

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Aug 04 2010

New Website for the Menhaden Coalition

Atlantic Menhaden Decline Menhaden CoalitionThe Menhaden Coalition, a group of over 34 organizations, how has a new website. Check it out: Save Menhaden Website
The Menhaden Coalition asks that:

1) If/when you see the Omega menhaden fleet, please report the sightings on the site. There is a link at the top of the page to post the reports. If you have pictures you should be able to post them, if not email them through the site and they will get the pictures up.

2) At the top right you can sign up to be notified via email when new posts or updates are made.

3) Link to the website from any website you have or are a member of. The Menhaden Coalition needs to drive as much awareness about the situation as possible to let the ASMFC and VIrginia legislature know that we as sportsmen/women are serious about having proper management of menhaden to assure we have forage fish for all the other fish species in the Chesapeake bay and Altantic Ocean. The link to link to is http://www.SaveMenhaden.org

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