The sun shines daily on our blue (71% and rising) planet, and about 5,000 known species of tiny plants (phytoplankton) use that solar energy to transform carbon dioxide and water into sugar, fat and protein. Millions of tons every day. That’s a pretty neat trick of nature, to say the least. Slightly larger zooplankton (animals) graze on the plants, grow and pass their mass up to predators like striped bass, whales and osprey.
Along North America’s Atlantic coast, menhaden (aka bunker, pogy) are arguably the most important plankton predator. People don’t eat menhaden, as the fish are small, bony and oily and have a brief shelf life. Yet each one is a rich packet of embodied solar energy and a nutritious serving for a striped bass, bluefish, osprey, whale or one of many other larger animals.
Fish-science wonks call menhaden a “low trophic level species,” meaning they are at the base of the food chain. Our marine ecosystem needs plenty of menhaden to function properly — to transfer solar energy from plankton to higher-level species. Probably for thousands of years, people have harvested menhaden for fertilizer and bait. But only during the last 150 years or so have menhaden been the target of industrial-scale fisheries.
We take menhaden out of marine food webs to feed cats, dogs, pen-raised salmon and pigs and to enhance various products ranging from lipstick to paint. Incredibly, until a few days ago, the east coast’s largest fishery — about 403 million pounds of menhaden were harvested last year — was managed with no annual catch limits. That’s highly unusual in the 21st century, and wrong.
For over a decade, scientists have talked about the need to manage fisheries in consideration of whole ecosystems — in other words, tuning harvest levels to ensure that solar energy gets captured by plankton and enough of it flows upward so that fish, whales and birds don’t go hungry. Unfortunately, while scientists were talking, Atlantic menhaden were fished down to historic lows, and mounting evidence suggests negative impacts to predators.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which is in charge of the menhaden fishery, reported really bad news in its 2010 stock assessment: the reproductive capacity of Atlantic menhaden is now at just 8% of a (theoretically) unfished population. Sometimes it takes bad news to make good news happen, and since the report was released, the Conservancy and many partners have pushed to the surface both the science and a compelling case for change.
Last week in Boston, in front of a standing-room-only crowd of anglers, conservationists and a sprinkling of lawyers, the commission voted decisively to establish much more conservative harvest limits for menhaden — charting a rebuilding course that could triple the menhaden in our sea. We commend the commission for its action, which will benefit menhaden, our coastal and marine ecosystem, and the diverse businesses and people who directly and indirectly depend on a healthy menhaden population.
It’s incredibly satisfying to report good news about the ocean — and this is very good news for fish and people — but the story is still being written. Between now and May 2012, the commission will evaluate options, collect public comments, and make rules regarding harvest monitoring and measures to reduce catch. These decisions will either delay progress or help set a global good example for ecosystem-based fishery management.
The Conservancy is ramping up efforts at high-priority places all around our blue planet, addressing ecosystem overfishing in ways that respect and help secure the future for communities that depend on ocean resources.
... from the Nature Conservancy blog
Red drum (puppy drum, channel bass, redfish) is North Carolina's official state saltwater fish.
Over 97% of the nation’s supply of red drum comes from North Carolina. However, this once-abundant fish population is in danger of being depleted, partially through the practice of over-fishing. Gill-nets are allowed in our state, unlike SC, Georgia and Florida, and this practice allows for the capture of red drum in high numbers, as well as entangling sea turtles and dolphins.
A group of local filmmakers made a documentary about the fish and its struggle – Red Fish Can’t Jump. They recommend several solutions to help save the population. First, protect North Carolina’s state fish by declaration of gamefish status, thereby prohibiting the commercial harvest or sale of red drum/redfish. Second, terminate destructive fishing gear practices in NC waters by eliminating gill nets. Finally, initialize dual enforcement for our NC Division of Marine Fisheries Officers and NC Wildlife Officers, allowing each branch to ensure enforcement of existing regulations.
The red drum begins life as a puppy drum, and can grow to in excess of 40 pounds. They’re usually reddish-bronze in color. The name comes from a drum-like noise the male makes during spawning season.
Drumming up some interest from local females, I suppose.
Ghost crabs are called that because they are camouflaged to slink around at night. Found on the upper beach out of the intertidal zone, they blend in with the sand and run in all directions. They eat clams, birds' eggs, mole crabs and most anything else they can scavenge. They have to enter the water periodically to rewet their gills.
More active at night, the ghost crabs burrow deep holes to hide out. The holes can be as much as four feet deep, and provide shelter in the winter when the crabs become dormant.
Ghost crab holes can be found on Masonboro Island, but on the more-populated beaches you probably won't find ghost crabs in abundance.
The bivalve mollusk called a mussel has a more elongated shell versus the rounded, oval shell of the clam. In North Carolina, we have over 61 varieties of freshwater mussels, however over half of them are endangered, threatened or of special concern . The Cape Fear Spike is on the “special concern” list, meaning its existence is in a potentially threatened state. It can grow up to three inches wide and is found in the Cape Fear and Black River.
Another mussel on the threatened species list is the Cape Fear Threetooth . Interestingly, mussels mature as parasites on fish hosts’ gills. The female mussel carries the immature larvae –glochidia – and uses various means (depending on the mussel species) to transfer her young to passing fish hosts. Some use mimcry, to look like insects or minnows, by waving their tissues to attract the fish, who gets a mouthful of larvae instead of a meal. Others release the young into the water column, still tethered to the female mussel, until it is “eaten” by the fish host. In any event, the unsuspecting fish ends up with the little mussel critters attached to his gills, and they grow there into juvenile mussels, with the heart, liver, digestive tract and foot. When all grown up, they drop off the fish host and begin their own mussel –ly existence.
Our beautifully-blue crab natives have what's called an apron on the underside – the very distinctive differences allow you to determine gender. The female also has a vampy red color on the tips of her claws. The male is called a "Jimmy" and the female is called a "Sook."
They have ten legs – two that are swim paddles, six that are walking legs (with that many, you would think they could walk frontwards instead of sideways), and two that are claws. One big claw is for crushing and grinding, and the smaller claw is for cutting and ripping.
If you're catching them, the minimum size to keep is 5 inches wide, and no females with eggs can be removed. Happy crabbing!