Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Marine Resources Commission
Marine Resources Commission
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8/18/23  10:00 am
Commenter: Cape Henry Audubon Society

Cape Henry Audubon Society Supports Petition 392
Cape Henry Audubon Society, located in Norfolk, Virginia, is a local chapter of the National Audubon Society.  Our mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity. Cape Henry Audubon is also a member chapter of the Virginia Society of Ornithology.  Our organization operates across the Hampton Roads area, including the lower Chesapeake Bay.  
Some of our most iconic birds live and breed around the Chesapeake Bay, including Bald Eagles and Ospreys.  The restoration of Bald Eagle and Osprey populations since their decimation in the days of DDT is highlighted as one of the great restoration success stories of our nation.  These birds, and many other creatures from blue crabs to striped bass to marine mammals, rely on nutrient rich fish to raise their young and to survive. In turn, much of this food web depend on the abundance of Atlantic menhaden, often called the most important fish in the sea. Unfortunately, the methods of the industrial menhaden fishery are threatening this entire ecosystem.
Earlier this summer, the William and Mary Center for Conservation Biology documented the highest rate of osprey nest failure ever recorded within the lower Chesapeake Bay.  Only 17 of 167 nests monitored during the season produced any young.  This nesting population produced only 21 young resulting in a reproductive rate of 0.13 young per pair.  This rate is below that recorded during the height of the DDT era.  In order for the population to sustain itself, pairs should produce 1.15 young per pair. Researchers within The Center believe that the ongoing decline in young production is driven by overharvest of Atlantic menhaden.  Within Mobjack Bay young osprey are starving in nests because of local depletion of menhaden.  The Center finds that between 1985 and 2021 the rate of menhaden captures by male osprey declined from 2.4 fish per 10 hours to only 0.4 fish per 10 hours, a decline of more than 80%.  Although osprey do feed on other fish species within the lower Chesapeake Bay, none of these species offer comparable nutrient content.  
Furthermore, the Chesapeake Bay is a very shallow estuary with an average depth of approximately 21 feet. Purse seine nets used in the menhaden fishery can reach two or three times that depth and pose threats for other non-target bottom-dwelling species and their habitats along the bottom of the bay.  Past by-catch studies have found bottom-dwelling species such as conch, flounder, horseshoe crabs, and clams included in the catch from the menhaden fishery.  Menhaden purse seining is only endorsed by the Marine Stewardship Council as a low-impact form of fishing when the net doesn't touch the bottom of the bay.
We understand that Petition 392 has been filed with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to adopt regulations to determine the appropriate depth of purse seines in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and areas where this gear is not appropriate due to depth and/or other important resources. The size and scale of the menhaden reduction fleet continues to raise significant questions about its effects on the menhaden population in Chesapeake Bay. Implementing a regulation to limit menhaden purse seining to Virginia waters deeper than the depth of the net itself is just common sense and keeps the net from scraping the bottom of the bay and permanently damaging the bay bottom.  Such regulations will help ensure that other Bay resources not targeted by this fishery will not be negatively affected by this resource.
The Cape Henry Audubon Society joins with sister organizations like the Richmond Audubon Society, the National Audubon Society, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to urge you to manage the menhaden fishery to better protect the overall ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay is home to several species of endangered and threatened seabirds, including the American Oystercatcher, Piping Plover, Royal and Common Terns, and Whimbrel. From red drum and weakfish to ospreys and blue crabs, countless species rely on healthy nearshore areas to survive.  This ecosystem must be protected.  
As such the Cape Henry Audubon support Petition 392 and asks the VMRC and DEQ that steps to implement regulations to minimize damage by purse seines, manage where such gear is deployed, and reduce incidences of net spills.   Let's protect the restoration progress we are working so hard to achieve in the Chesapeake Bay.  
Rogard Ross
Conservation Chair,
Cape Henry Audubon,
P.O. Box 1533
Norfolk, Virginia 23501
CommentID: 219313