A tried-and-true phrase used repeatedly in sporting fishing says, “Find the bait, find the game fish.” That is why CCA Virginia is focused on actions that improve the populations of forage species in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. As a key component of the food web, abundant bait or forage populations leads to success for all in the ecosystem that rely on them, anglers too.
Species of Forage Fish
Called the most important fish in the sea, the Atlantic Menhaden - also known as bunker - are the primary prey for stripers (rockfish), red drum, cobia bluefish, and weakfish. Menhaden graze on algae and phytoplankton to feed, which transfers this protein rich energy to the predators that eat them.
Almost half of the 52 stocks of Alewife and Blueback Herring assessed are depleted. CCA Virginia supports efforts both at sea and in local waterways to limit their harvest and improve access to and the condition of their traditional spawning habitats.
Coast wide populations of both Shad species depleted. CCA Virginia supports removing dams blocking historical spawning grounds as well as making American and Hickory Shad catch-and-release game fish in Virginia waters.
Although the menhaden coastal stock is healthy, concerns remain that localized depletion could be occurring in the Chesapeake, and as a result important game fish such as stripers are being negatively impacted. For decades, Omega Protein, the industrial purse seine operation based in Reedville, has taken a grossly disproportionate amount of the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay harvests. In 2022, foreign-owned Omega admitted responsibility for at least two major net spills, one of which killed nearly 300 (12,000 pounds!) mature red drum. No penalties or fees were levied.
What CCA Virginia is Doing
CCA Virginia continues to be a strong advocate for a more sustainably managed menhaden fishery. This includes:
- Supporting stronger regulations to reduce wasteful bycatch caused by net spills (link to Op/Ed), limit user conflicts and the impacts on coastal communities.
- Working within state and federal fishery management systems to ensure forage fish are being left in the Bay and ocean to support healthy populations of game fish and other marine animals
- Supporting restrictions on or the removal of industrial purse seine gear in the Chesapeake Bay
Fish illustrations courtesy of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission