On February 1st, the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board met in Alexandria, Virginia to review public comment on an array of options for changing the way we manage what is perhaps the most important forage fish on the east coast, and to decide which options will go forward as part of Draft Amendment 3 later this year.
According to the record of public hearing testimony, written comments and signed petitions, the overwhelming choice of the over 25,000 citizens who weighed in on how best to protect the ecological role of menhaden – chiefly as prey for a plethora of predators, from striped bass and bluefin tuna to ospreys and whales – was Option D: Existing Guidelines for Forage Species. In fact, it was preferred by over 99 percent of all responders, as statistically close to unanimous as you can get.
Option D recommends using existing science-based guidelines for forage fish, such as fishing at a level that maintains 75 percent of the un-fished population. This rule-of-thumb target ecological reference point – combined with a minimum threshold of 40 percent, at which the fishery would close – could be implemented in 2018, while work continues on developing complex food web models to produce menhaden-specific ERPs, which are unlikely to be operational before 2022, if then.
Noting that this approach is based on sound science developed for important forage species, the Menhaden Management Board agreed to include it as one of two ERP options to be offered in Draft Amendment 3, which will go out once again for public comment early this fall before it is approved for implementation next year.
Ken Hinman, president of Wild Oceans and a longtime member of the Menhaden Citizen Advisory Panel, says “the choice is simple.”
“We can enact new, widely-accepted abundance targets and fishing limits for Atlantic menhaden designed to protect its ecological role now, through Amendment 3, or we can study the problem ad infinitum, while keeping in place a plan that allows the fishing industry to continue taking more and more menhaden out of the water every year.”
Wild Oceans first recommended what it calls “the 75% solution” in 2009 when we submitted to the Menhaden Board and its science advisors a paper entitled “Ecological Reference Points for Atlantic Menhaden.” In 2015 we published a lengthy report, Resource Sharing: The Berkeley Criterion, which explains the need for precaution in managing forage fish and summarizes the scientific and policy consensus around what has become a 75% rule-of-thumb for conserving key prey species like menhaden. https://wildoceans.org/publications/
Draft Amendment 3 also addresses outstanding issues of how the fish are allocated between the reduction and bait fisheries and among the states.
“It is important that this amendment adopt the fairest approach to allocating a resource that belongs to the residents of all 15 ASMFC member states,” says Hinman, “However, we consider how the fish are allocated between the fisheries and the coastal ecosystem paramount, because it addresses the needs of all the Commission’s constituents; not just the directed fisheries but also the many predator species that depend on menhaden as prey and the valuable commercial and recreational fisheries targeting these dependent species from Maine to Florida.”
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