Maryland Gov. Wes Moore is asking the federal government for help against an expanding population of invasive fish species in the Chesapeake Bay, including blue catfish, flathead catfish and snakehead.
Since 2012, the total catch of seven of Maryland’s marquee commercial fishery species that share habitats with invasive fish have declined between 27% and 91% while their dockside value has also declined between 12% and 85%, according to a news release from Lt. Gov. spokesperson Brittany Marshall. Commercial fishing of blue crab, striped bass, yellow perch, American eel and others have brought in an average $64 million yearly in dockside value since 2012.
Moore sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo requesting an emergency declaration under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act, which would qualify Maryland for federal fishery disaster assistance.
”In recent years, the state has become increasingly concerned about the explosion in the abundance of invasive fish species in the Chesapeake Bay, including blue catfish, flathead catfish, and snakehead,” Moore said in the news release. “It is critical to act now to mitigate the effects of these invasive species and to provide assistance to the commercial fishing industry.”
Blue catfish, which were first introduced in Virginia in the 1970s to create a recreational fishery, are known to multiply rapidly, adapt to new environments and eat a wide variety of prey, including other fish and crustaceans, while competing with native species for space and for food.
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ annual Striped Bass Juvenile Index and Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey, striped bass recruitment has been well below average for four consecutive years, while total abundance of blue crab in the Chesapeake Bay in 2022 was 227 million crabs — the lowest abundance observed since the survey began in 1990. To help protect spawning stock, both Maryland and Virginia have enacted measured but stricter limits on both recreational and commercial catch.
”Maryland, Virginia and other Atlantic Coast states have made wise and measured changes to many of our fishery regulations to protect our iconic species, but we have an emerging crisis on our hands that could undermine those measures,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz said in the news release. “The impact of invasive species cannot be underestimated, nor can we delay action to address the damage they are causing.”
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is urging recreational anglers to target invasive species to help combat their population expansion. There are no fishing limits on invasive species, which means anglers can catch and keep any number of them, at any size, during any time of the year.