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_You may never have eaten an Atlantic menhaden – a small oily fish found in the Chesapeake Bay and up and down the East coast – but this fish is food for many birds, mammals and bigger fish, such as the striped bass, as well as the focus of a substantial commercial fishery. According to a new study by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) populations of these fish are now at historic lows. Bill Goldsborough, director of fisheries programs for The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and an ASMFC commissioner, says the menhaden matters.

__”The Atlantic menhaden is a very important part of the food web, and it’s because so many other fish depend on them as food. If menhaden were to disappear, we would have a severe disruption of the coastal eco-system.” Goldsborough says the reason for the decline of menhaden is over-fishing. The fish are high in Omega-3 fats used to produce fish oil capsules, and are also used for fish food and for bait. He says catch limits for the fish must be set before it is too late. “That is, limited to a point that would allow sufficient numbers to remain in the water, in the population; not just to reproduce, but also to have enough out there that all these other species that depend on them for food, get plenty to eat.” The ASMFC meets in August to discuss suggestions for saving the Atlantic menhaden. Any measures taken by ASMFC on menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia coastal waters must also be adopted by the Virginia General Assembly, which manages menhaden in the Commonwealth.

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