The Vote is On for Atlantic Menhaden ERPs – Weigh In!

Pam Lyons Gromen, Executive Director

Update! 08/05/2020

Ecological Reference Points for Atlantic Menhaden, reference points that account for menhaden’s role as a forage fish, have just been unanimously adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. This is a big win for menhaden predators, one that would not have been possible without the work of many dedicated organizations and individuals.

A huge thank you to our colleagues and supporters! Time to celebrate this victory for the future of fishing!

Atlantic Menhaden Could Soon be Managed to Protect their Role as Forage Fish

We are closing in on a major achievement for the future of fishing. During its August 4 – 5 meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Atlantic Menhaden Management Board (Board) is scheduled to vote on new reference points for menhaden that account for menhaden’s role as a forage fish.

Ecological reference points (ERPs) for menhaden were identified as a Commission priority in a 2009 Action Plan. Since that time, Wild Oceans has been working with our partners on the front line, pushing for ERPs to be adopted in the Atlantic Menhaden Interstate Fishery Management Plan.

We have had setbacks along the way.  In 2017, the Board rejected a broadly supported ERP alternative we helped develop in favor of waiting for additional research. (See “Eco-Fail,” by Ken Hinman, November 17, 2017)  Now armed with a new Ecological Reference Points Stock Assessment that was approved for management use in February, Commissioners appear eager to move ahead.

ERP options that will come before the Board in August are derived from a limited ecosystem model that incorporates prey groups (menhaden and Atlantic herring) and predator groups (striped bass, weakfish, spiny dogfish and bluefish).  The most sensitive relationship in the model, which will be of no surprise to anglers, is the link between menhaden harvest and striped bass abundance. Menhaden fishing mortality targets and thresholds that are set to maintain the striped bass population would be lower than traditional single-species reference points, leaving more menhaden in the water to serve as forage.  Wild Oceans is supporting ERPs that would contribute to the recovery of overfished striped bass and maintain striped bass at their target population level.

Will you help us succeed in August by telling the Menhaden Management Board that you support ecological reference points for menhaden?  The ASMFC is accepting public comment for its summer meeting via email at

Submit your comment with the subject line “ASMFC Summer Meeting: Menhaden ERPs” by 5:00 PM Eastern Time on Tuesday, July 28.

Key Points to Make (Choose what speaks to you!)

  • Remind the ASMFC’s Menhaden Management Board that Atlantic menhaden belong to the public, and tell the commissioners why you, personally, care about the future of menhaden.
  • Say you support ecological reference points (ERPs) because menhaden are critical forage for a wide diversity of marine life in the Atlantic, including many commercially and recreationally-valuable fish like striped bass, bluefish, tuna, cod, king mackerel and tarpon, as well as many species of seabirds and marine mammals.
  • Emphasize that the ecological reference points are based on the best available science from the Ecological Reference Points Assessment that the Board approved for management use in February.
  • Insist that the ASMFC adopt the new ERPs with the clear intention to manage to the ERP TARGET.  Maintaining abundance in the water is the goal for a forage species, not simply preventing the collapse of menhaden and its predators (managing to the threshold).
  • Tell the Board that by adopting ERPs, they will not only be taking an important step in transitioning to ecosystem-based fishery management, they will be setting a national and global precedent for managing forage species to safeguard their role in the food web.

Read the letter we submitted together with The Pew Charitable Trusts, Conservation Law Foundation and the National Audubon Society.

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