NOAA Fisheries casts critical vote against ecosystem management of menhaden
After a protracted three-hour debate today, the Menhaden Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission deferred a decision on the future of menhaden management to its next meeting in October in remote Bar Harbor, Maine. The debate centers on whether to increase commercial harvest of menhaden or stay committed to a course of action adopted in 2012 that manages menhaden as a critical forage base in the marine ecosystem.
Encouragingly, the day’s proceedings included a number of close but failed votes to increase commercial harvest by 1, 5, 10 or even 19 percent. However, a golden opportunity to solidify the ASMFC’s commitment to ecological management of menhaden was missed when the NOAA Fisheries’ representative to ASMFC voted against a measure to maintain the status quo that would have allowed conservation measures to restore menhaden to its full ecological potential. That motion failed by a single vote.
“We came very close to maintaining the current course of menhaden management and it is incredibly disappointing that the federal representative to the ASMFC sided with efforts to increase commercial harvest,” said Richen Brame, regional fisheries director for Coastal Conservation Association. “It is especially difficult to understand the rationale of NOAA Fisheries in this case when the agency has been actively promoting ecological management in other fisheries.”
Conservationists have worked for years for new management measures for menhaden that would take into account its vital role as a forage base in the marine ecosystem rather than as a feedstock for industrial harvesters. In a letter to ASMFC commissioners, CCA wrote that any increase in quota in 2017 without an understanding of the impacts to the ecosystem is contrary to the Commission’s commitment to manage menhaden based on its role as forage through Amendment 3. Furthermore, an increase will go primarily to Virginia and New Jersey, will not address shortages in the other states and in the bait market, and will not sufficiently help those states that are exceeding their small menhaden allocation.
"A healthy and wide-ranging population of menhaden supports access and opportunity for recreational fishermen and many other stakeholders by fulfilling their natural role to feed predatory species, and maximizing their value for all. There are good reasons to be cautious with forage base management,” said Brame. “We will continue working to ensure that managers remain committed to a course of action that allows menhaden to serve its unique role in the marine environment.”
The next ASMFC meeting will take place Oct. 24-27 in Bar Harbor, Maine.