Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Species in news: Atlantic Menhaden


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Atlantic Menhaden

Mains level: Not Much


Central Idea

  • Researchers have discovered that the population of ospreys, a fish-eating bird, is facing a decline due to the decreasing numbers of Atlantic menhaden, their primary food source.
  • The depletion of menhaden, a small silvery fish, is attributed to commercial fishing practices.
  • The decline in osprey reproduction reflects the broader ecological impact of reduced menhaden numbers.

About Atlantic Menhaden

  • Atlantic menhaden, scientifically known as Brevoortia tyrannus, is a species of fish belonging to the Clupeidae family.
  • They are commonly found along the Atlantic coast of North America, ranging from Florida to Nova Scotia.
  • Atlantic menhaden play a vital ecological role and have significant commercial and ecological importance.

Importance of Atlantic Menhaden

  • Role in Coastal Ecosystem: Menhaden play a crucial role in the ecology of coastal waters along the Eastern Seaboard, providing sustenance for larger fish, marine mammals, and birds.
  • Nutrient-Rich and Filtering Capacity: Menhaden are nutrient-rich, containing omega-3 fatty acids, and they filter substantial quantities of ocean water while consuming smaller organisms like plankton.

Commercial Fishing Impact

  • Increased Catch Allowance: The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission raised the allowable catch of menhaden to 233,550 metric tons for the next two years, a 20% increase from previous years.
  • Fishery Quota: The commission maintained a quota of 51,000 metric tons for the Chesapeake Bay’s reduction fishery, where menhaden are used for bait and fish products.
  • Ecological Concerns: Critics argue that the removal of significant menhaden quantities is degrading the ecosystem, negatively affecting species like ospreys and striped bass that rely on menhaden.

Low Reproductive Numbers and Menhaden Depletion

  • In mid-June, researchers found only three young ospreys out of 84 nests checked in Mobjack Bay, part of the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Scientists at the College of William & Mary, monitoring the local osprey population for over 50 years, recorded the lowest reproductive number.
  • The decline in breeding success is attributed to the depletion of Atlantic menhaden, the osprey’s primary food source.

Lawsuit and Ecosystem Protection

  • Recreational Fishermen Lawsuit: A group of recreational fishermen from Maryland sued the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, claiming it contributed to the menhaden decline by endorsing quotas that harm fish populations and the recreational fishing industry.
  • Commercial Fishing Practices: Critics highlight the negative impact of industrial techniques used by companies like Omega Protein, which catch menhaden in unsustainable quantities, contributing to the decline of other species and damaging ecosystems.
  • Restoring Menhaden Stocks: Non-profit organizations advocate for rebuilding menhaden populations along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts to maintain a balanced ecosystem.

Positive Signs beyond Chesapeake Bay

  • Menhaden Recovery: Outside the Chesapeake Bay, menhaden populations have increased since the Atlantic commission took measures to address overfishing in 2012, leading to a recovery of the fish population within two years.
  • Ecological Impact: The recovery of menhaden populations has brought back various predators such as humpback whales, tuna, sharks, and bald eagles off the coasts of New York and New Jersey.


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