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    Stewardship Tips: Menhaden

    By Anna | September 30, 2014

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    Commercial boats still prowl Virginia’s side of the Chesapeake. They are large boats and are supported by a fleet of aircraft. Acting as spotters, the planes direct the boats to the pods of menhaden.

    One single fleet harvests about three-quarters of the entire East Coast annual catch of menhaden in Virginia. They harvest more than 100,000 metric tons of fish from the bay and surrounding coastal waters. That is a substantial amount of fish to remove from a single fishery. According to the organization Menaden Matter, the harvest raises concerns:
    The overall population of Atlantic menhaden is near historic lows while the population of young menhaden has been at an all-time low for more than a decade.
    Predators that depend on menhaden as a food source, most notably striped bass, are showing signs of ecological stress
    A high proportion of striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay are suffering malnutrition and poor body condition.
    More than half of the striped bass sampled are infected with mycobacteriosis, a sometimes fatal disease, which typically appears in fish under stress.
    The survival rate of striped bass has been declining due to natural causes.
    Menhaden are important to the overall health of Chesapeake not only as prey, they are also filter feeders. They are second only to oysters, which are already grossly depleted, and feed on plankton and decaying plant matter.
    The menhaden fishery is a reduction fishery. The harvested fish are reduced and used for fish oil, fish meal, omega-3, and chicken feed.

    There has been positive movement within the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to set limits on the menhaden harvest and the Governors of Virginia and Maryland have been receptive to these limits. Continuing research will also give us a better idea of the course of action that we can follow.

    For now, we, as consumers, can take action. There is no reason that omega-3 supplements, for example, need to come from menhaden. There are a number of sustainable alternatives available that we can select…

    Microphytic Algae: Microphytes are the original source of omega-3 fatty acids to organisms in the aquatic ecosystem. You can find algae based omega-3 supplements labeled as “vitamins from algae” or “omega-3 from algae.”

    Flax Seed/Flax Oil: The Romans recognized the benefits of flax. Both the oil and the seed are excellent sources for omega-3.

    Alaskan Wild Salmon: Alaskan salmon, one of the great sustainable fisheries, is a good source for omega-3. Look for fish that is labeled “wild,” also look for fish oil tablets that explicitly state “from Alaskan Wild Salmon.”

    (photo: http://chesapeakebay.noaa.gov/fish-facts/menhaden)
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