Overview of the Issue

Menhaden, also known as bunkers or pogies, are a key food source for sportfish species like striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, king mackerel and cobia. As such, menhaden are a vital species in the marine food web and the health of their population is critical to maintaining healthy populations of many other fish species in both the Atlantic and the Gulf. Nearly every predatory fish, marine mammal and bird eats them at some point in their life cycle.

The vast majority of menhaden harvested in the Atlantic are processed by a single reduction facility in Reedville, VA, operated by Omega Protein. Similarly, in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Menhaden are harvested by Daybrook fisheries in addition to Omega Protein.

As a key part of the marine ecosystem, increasing the abundance of menhaden will help ensure popular sportfish and many other species have enough food to keep them abundant and healthy.

Crucial Atlantic Menhaden Decision Will Help Rebuild Striped Bass Fishery

On August 5, 2020, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously for ecosystem-based management of Atlantic Menhaden. This is the first time that menhaden’s crucial role as a forage fish for sportfish species will be taken into consideration as part of the management planning process.

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What ASA is Doing

ASA and many other recreational fishing and environmental organizations have been working for years to advance the way that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) manages Atlantic menhaden. A shift away from a single-species management approach to one that better accounts for the important role that menhaden play in the ecosystem (including as a prey species for many popular sport fish) would be beneficial.

Similar effort exists in the Gulf, but the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC) that coordinates management for Gulf Menhaden operates differently from ASMFC in that it lacks the regulatory authority to force states to implement management, so management is essentially voluntary by the states.

In 2020, ASA engaged Keep America fishing supporters on separate menhaden issues in Virginia, the Atlantic states and in Louisiana generating communications to key decision-makers in state legislators, fish and game organizations and regulatory agencies.

In May 2021, ASA engaged Keep America Fishing supporters in Louisiana. Legislation had been proposed that would have established a buffer zone to protect sensitive coastal areas from damage caused by industrial menhaden fishing. KAF supporters were generated letters to the Louisiana House and Senate on three separate activations. The legislation was passed by the House by a margin of 67-28. However, the final Senate proposal significantly reduced the size of the coastwide buffer zone, which our coalition simply could not accept. We look forward to continuing our efforts for next year’s legislative session.

In April of 2022, ASA again engaged Keep America Fishing supporters in Louisiana. A bill, known as H.B. 1033, was approved by the House and is about to be considered by the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

What You Can Do

Virginia anglers can Sign a Petition to tell Governor Youngkin to stop industrial menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.

Download the Advocacy Checklist and learn how you can get involved with the issues that affect our industry.

Sign up to receive updates from Keep America Fishing.

For more information, contact ASA Atlantic Fisheries Policy Director Mike Waine.