Big Day for a Little Fish
ASMFC takes first step to finally bring menhaden under management
BALTIMORE, MD – For the first time ever, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) will reduce the harvest of menhaden and finally begin the process of managing this critical forage base. The measure approved today by the Menhaden Management Board will reduce menhaden harvest in both the reduction and bait fisheries by 20 percent beginning in 2013.
“Coastal Conservation Association has been fighting this fight for 20 years as Atlantic menhaden have always been one of the most important species in the ocean to anglers,” said Richen Brame, Atlantic States fisheries director for CCA “The action taken today is an historical victory for recreational anglers, conservation-minded citizens and the most important fish in the sea – menhaden. For the first time ever, the Atlantic menhaden fishery is finally being managed. The key in today’s action is that the ASMFC made a decision to manage menhaden as part of an ecosystem rather than solely as a food fish. This philosophy is a major step forward for improving the marine ecosystem for anglers from Maine to Florida.”
The 20 percent reduction is far less than many recreational anglers would have preferred, but even that reduction in harvest was in doubt as Omega Protein, the only remaining company engaged in the menhaden reduction industry, brought enormous political pressure to bear on the management process.
“We would have liked to see a greater reduction to ensure the health of the stock, but it is important to keep an eye on the larger picture,” said Brame. “Throughout its history, menhaden were managed by a process dominated by industry solely for its own use and profit. Today’s action marks a sea-change in how this fishery is perceived and how it will be managed going forward. That is the real victory. Our work is not done, but we finally have the arena to manage menhaden for what it is – a critical forage base. Hopefully, this clears the way for further reductions in harvest.”
The latest menhaden stock assessment showed the stock was undergoing overfishing and abundance estimates were at the lowest level ever recorded. Current science indicates that the menhaden spawning stock biomass is at about 9 percent of a stock that is not subjected to any fishing pressure. The 20 percent reduction in harvest is an interim measure that will be in place until the results of the next benchmark stock assessment are known in 2014.
“The Board took interim steps today to protect this important stock while we await better scientific advice from a new stock assessment,” said Brame. “The picture is constantly evolving, and we appreciate that the Menhaden Management Board took steps now to finally begin rebuilding menhaden.”