“We’re overfished; we’re overfishing. … If we don’t do something, it’s likely the long-term viability of [the menhaden] fishery is going to go away,” said Louis Daniel, North Carolina’s fisheries director and chairman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Friday, at a hotel in South Baltimore, Daniel masterfully maintained order. Only once was there cause for him to say the room would be cleared if the 360 plus spectators did not behave respectfully of the commissioners. The Commission agreed to manage the menhaden fisheries by a vote of 13 to 3. The Commission made a historic decision to manage the fishery under a quota-based management system for the first time ever – harvest will from now forward be managed by an annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC). They took the vital step of correcting its biomass reference points so they are now consistent with the mortality reference points and make it even clearer that this stock is overfished.
The menhaden catch will be immediately reduced by 25% from last year’s catch through a catch history-based quota setting approach based on 80% of the average of the past three year’s catch; this is not enough of a reduction (we asked for 50%), but it is a substantial step in the right direction. And, fishing practices and menhaden stocks will be reassessed in two years.
The total available coastwide catch for menhaden for 2013 will be 170,800 metric tons, a 25 percent cut from 2011. That catch will be shared between a commercial menhaden reduction fleet, commercial bait fishermen and recreational fishermen. Approximately 100 million individual menhaden fish were saved by Friday’s action of the Commission. The number of fish saved is approximate dependent on the same year class of menhaden being fished next year as last with 80% going to processing and 20% going to bait to support anglers and other fishermen.
Capt. Paul Eidman, a New Jersey recreational fishing guide who depends on healthy menhaden stocks, said the meeting was attended by hundreds of anglers from Maine to Florida who were against the exploitation from Maine to Florida. “Clearly the ASMFC took notice of us today,” Eidman said.
The fishery had never been subject to catch limits along the entire Atlantic coast — a rarity in contemporary fishery management — allowing fleets to harvest virtually unlimited amounts from the ocean (reported by the New York Times).
“The Wild West fishery that’s been going on with menhaden — to have a fishery that’s essentially been unregulated, it’s unheard of,” said Darren Saletta, the executive director of the Massachusetts Commercial Striped Bass Association.
“When we first started fishing for menhaden in Chatham, it was not a problem to go out with just a grappling hook and catch 20 in 20 minutes,” said Capt. Dale Tripp, who has operated commercial and charter boats in Cape Cod since 1973. “Now, you can’t go out with a gill net and catch 20 in two hours.”
Many blame the “reduction fishery,” which harvests about 80 percent of the menhaden that come out of the sea each year. It is for the most part operated by a single company, Omega Protein, which grinds up the fish for use in fish-oil dietary supplements, fertilizer and animal feed.
“It is absolutely crumbling, what’s happening to the fish,” said Chuck Howard, a longtime striped-bass fisherman from Rockville, Md. “Anybody who thinks it’s a better use to grind them up and send them to China, rather than have them swimming in the Chesapeake Bay and filtering our water, has to explain to me why that’s a good idea.”
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, meeting before a packed ballroom of partisans in a Southeast Baltimore hotel, ended years of debate over whether the fish were in trouble and voted overwhelmingly for the first-ever coastwide limit on the ecologically and economically important species. The lopsided 13-3 vote represented a compromise between appeals for a much steeper cutback in the catch and pleas to go easy until further study could determine how big a cut is needed. (Baltimore Sun)
The commission’s action comes two years after its scientific advisers warned that the coastal menhaden population had declined to 8 percent of historic levels and had suffered from overfishing over most of the past half-century.
While conservationists and anglers had argued for cuts of 25 percent or 50 percent or even for a moratorium, commercial fishing interests questioned the commission’s science and urged that cuts be delayed or at least minimized until more study could be done to verify the condition of the fishery. Fortunately for menhaden and for sustainable fisheries, the Commission acted decisively and will commence the practice of responsible stewardship.
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