The Past and Future of Menhaden

ASMFC INITIATES AMENDMENT 3 TO PROTECT ATLANTIC MENHADEN AS FORAGE

On May 5th, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission had one foot in the past and one in the future.

At the same meeting where it approved a modest increase in the coast-wide quota based on an out-moded single-species stock assessment, the Menhaden Management Board voted unanimously to amend its 15-state menhaden plan with revised abundance targets and fishing limits, known as “ecological reference points,” that will more fully protect this critical forage fish’s role in the Atlantic coastal ecosystem.

Faced with a new stock assessment showing menhaden are no longer “overfished” in terms of supporting a commercial fishery, and under intense pressure from industry to respond by relaxing catch restrictions, the ASMFC Menhaden Management Board agreed to raise the coast-wide quota by 10% for 2015 and 2016.  But citing concerns that the single-species assessment does not account for the needs of a wide range of dependent predators, along with recognition that real advances have been made in science-based approaches to conserving forage species, the Board initiated Amendment 3 to establish ecosystem-based catch limits by the 2017 fishing season.

“We are very disappointed in the commission for not maintaining current catch levels.  In the big picture, however, the modest increase in quota for two years is less important than the Board finally committing to a definite process and timeline for adopting ecological reference points,” says Wild Oceans president Ken Hinman, a conservation representative on the Board’s advisory panel.  “I view the catch increase as the final act under the old rules, one last nod to the past before we step into the future, where we will take care of the needs of menhaden’s predators first, before we allocate to the fishery.  That future is closer now than ever before.”

Amendment 3, which will be developed over the next two years with plenty of opportunity for public input, will not only address how menhaden are allocated between the fishery and the ecosystem, the priority for the vast majority of the ASMFC’s constituents from Maine to Florida, but will also revisit allocation between the reduction and bait fisheries and among the states.  Currently, one industry, Omega Protein, receives 80% of the quota and one state, Virginia, 85% of the total.

May 6, 2014

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