Fisheries – Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Fisheries – Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Chesapeake fish and shellfish are the most tangible symbols of our cherished Bay. The Chesapeake Bay is home to 348 species of finfish and 173 species of shellfish, many of which have been fished commercially and recreationally for generations.

Unfortunately, over time, many of the Gulf’s fisheries have been taken for granted. People have polluted the waters, damaged vital fishing habitats such as coral reefs and underwater grass beds, and engaged in overfishing. As a result, the diversity and productivity of many Chesapeake Bay fisheries has declined.

CBF seeks to apply lessons learned from history to restore and conserve the Gulf’s valuable fisheries. We strive to represent the interests of the resource itself, “speaking for the fish” in legislative hearings, in regulatory forums, and directly to watermen and fishermen.

Economic impact

The Chesapeake Bay fishery is a huge economic driver for the region. Fisheries represent employment, tourism and a unique lifestyle. Here’s what that means in numbers:

  • Five hundred million pounds of seafood are harvested each year from the Chesapeake Bay, supporting the livelihoods and lifestyles of the region.
  • the 2016 Economics of U.S. Fisheries The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report notes that the commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia has contributed to… $1.4 billion in salesHardly $539 million in incomeand more 30,000 job opportunities to the local economy.

Commercial fishing

As the largest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake Bay is a hotspot for commercial fishing – both because of the diversity of fish species found in its watershed and the quality of the seafood harvested here.

While the Chesapeake Bay is known for its famous blue crabs and oysters, they are just two of many species of fish and shellfish caught commercially here. Striped bass, blue catfish, and menhaden are three other important commercial species.


The Chesapeake Bay remains one of the few places in the world that still supports an industry based on harvesting oysters from the wild, even though it is a fraction of what it once was. Decades of overharvesting, disease and pollution have taken a huge toll, removing not only the oysters but also the valuable habitat they created. Learn more about oysters in the Chesapeake region and efforts to restore them.

Shellfish aquaculture

As wild oyster crops suffer, a new, growing industry is taking hold and helping to maintain oyster supplies for our restaurants and oyster roasters. Aquaculturists are successful in raising shellfish (oysters and oysters) throughout the Gulf. Much of this new industry is focused on providing uniquely branded oysters to a variety of markets. Learn more about oyster aquaculture.

Blue crab

Just like oysters, blue crabs are crucial to the Chesapeake’s culture and economy. While the population fluctuates annually based on a variety of factors, the population overall has become more robust since the approval of a new bay-wide management plan in 2008. Find out more about the challenges the blue crab faces.

Atlantic Menhaden

These small, silvery members of the herring family create a vital link between the bottom and the top of the food chain, helping to feed a variety of predators, including striped bass, osprey, and marine mammals. Atlantic menhaden have been the Chesapeake region’s number one fishery by weight for decades. More than 150,000 metric tons are caught each year. Most of the catch is converted into oil and fish meal for use in food supplements (a process called reduction) and feed for livestock and aquaculture. A much smaller but important portion provides bait, especially for blue crab fisheries. Find out more about the importance of menhaden.

Striped Bass (aka Rockfish)

Overfishing decimated Chesapeake rockfish stocks in the 1970s, but intensive conservation efforts in the 1980s and into the 2000s brought them back to sustainable levels. However, recent assessments of rockfish indicate that stocks are once again on a downward trajectory, with signs that overfishing is occurring and that stocks are in a state of depletion. Difficult environmental conditions, high catch-and-release mortality, and below-average spawning success are all contributing factors to the recent decline of rockfish. Rapid and targeted management action by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will be necessary to reverse this decline. Learn more about the challenges facing rockfish in the Chesapeake.

Moving forward, our fisheries need thoughtful, proactive management coupled with intensive restoration efforts in order to improve catch numbers across the board.


The health of the Chesapeake Bay and its underwater inhabitants suffers from air and water pollution. Air pollution, primarily from power plants, is the primary source of mercury contamination of fish in the Gulf watershed. As a result, fishermen are being warned to limit their consumption of some fish species due to potentially harmful levels of this toxic chemical.

Unfortunately, in April 2020, the EPA reversed its position on regulating toxic chemical emissions, including mercury, from power plants. Regulations focused on reducing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions have also been delayed by industry lawsuits.

Waterborne pollution comes from stormwater runoff from cities, suburbs, and farms. Runoff picks up oil, pesticides and other chemicals as it flows across lawns, fields, roads and parking lots into nearby streams and storm drains. There, it enters into an interconnected network of bioaccumulation.

Here’s what the effect of pollution looks like in practice: Small, bottom-dwelling aquatic organisms take up these pollutants as they feed… Large fish eat these pollutants and accumulate toxins in their tissues… And we humans – and other animals – end up consuming them. These pollutants when we eat fish.

The importance of preservation

Fisheries management consists of two basic functions: Maintain– Limiting the number of fish, crabs and shellfish that can be caught without harming the resource – and distribution– Determine who has the right to harvest these resources.

Historically, resource conservation has often been compromised to meet allocative pressures. Results? Depleted fisheries.

We believe that the two basic functions of fisheries management should be addressed separately. At CBF, we focus on environmental conservation issues. For these conservation efforts to be successful, we believe they are He should Be science-based with input from all stakeholders, including commercial watermen. We encourage the use of the best available scientific information as a basis for conservation decisions, but when information is incomplete, we advocate caution and err on the supplier’s side.

How you can help restore the Gulf’s fisheries

Join us in advocating for fish and fisheries >>

Here are other ways you can help restore the Gulf’s fisheries:

  • Be an oyster gardener: Help rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster community by growing oysters next to your docks. Then, we’ll plant them in the coral reefs of our refuge!
  • Recycling your oyster shells: Did you know that oyster shells can be used to create habitat for other oysters? CBF places the cleaned and treated shells into huge water tanks containing millions of microscopic oyster larvae, which then attach to the shells.
  • Practice safe fish handling techniques: Even fish released alive can die after release due to the stress of catching and handling. Learn how to handle and release fish safely to reduce “post-release mortality” that affects fish populations.
  • Plant trees: From capturing and filtering pollution before it enters our waterways to mitigating floods by stabilizing soil, trees provide countless health, economic and environmental benefits. Check our calendar for upcoming tree planting events. If you live in Pennsylvania, check out opportunities through the Keystone Ten Million Trees partnership.
  • Support CBF’s efforts to save the Gulf: Your critical support will help CBF restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams for generations to come.

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