The fish that teem in the Chesapeake’s waters play diverse roles in the Bay’s ecology. Some, like Bay anchovy and menhaden, are forage fish, feeding on zooplankton and becoming food for bigger fish. Others, like striped bass, are top predators, feeding on smaller fish like croaker, and becoming food only for human harvesters. Many fish play a role in the Bay’s ecosystem that is ephemeral, migrating seasonally into Chesapeake waters each year. Of the 295 species of fish in the Bay, only 32 species are year-round residents.
In recent decades, sustained poor water quality and a legacy of overfishing have led to declines in many of the Bay’s fisheries. Even striped bass, which returned to the Bay in large numbers after aggressive management action, including a five-year moratorium, have been plagued by diseases — possibly brought on by inadequate food supplies and poor water quality. Dwindling fisheries resources have also taken a toll on the region’s coastal communities and economies.
In response to declining stock sizes, management agencies have worked to overhaul their approach to fisheries management. Traditionally, fisheries stocks have been managed one species at a time, with no consideration of how that fish linked to the ecosystem as a whole. The seeds of change for fisheries management in the Bay were planted in 1996, when the reauthorization of the nation’s premier fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, spelled out the principles and guidelines for ecosystem-based management of fisheries.
In 2000, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office assembled a Technical Advisory Panel to develop a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for the Chesapeake Bay.
The plan, completed in 2004, provides an umbrella document that sets forth guidelines to be followed by all future fishery management plans in the Bay. The FEP recognizes that the Bay’s fisheries will be sustainable only if we account for relationships between predator and prey, and work to preserve and restore water quality and habitat.
Current and past Maryland Sea Grant-funded research on Chesapeake Bay fish
Managing Fisheries for the Future
Chesapeake Quarterly, Volume 2, Number 4, 2003.
Chesapeake Bay Program Fish Page
Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service