By Colston Newton
5/18/2011 1:45:30 PM
Reedville’s Omega Protein may be in the sights of federal bureaucrats, sports fishermen and ecologists again, but at least it’s not alone this time.
In a March Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting of fisheries managers, officials decided that more of the Atlantic menhaden’s spawning-aged fish should be protected. Under current regulations, 9 percent of spawners must be spared. Under the new proposal, that level would be increased to 15 percent.
Raising the limit would require a 10 percent reduction in the harvest, according to Jack Travelstead of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and a Virginia member of the ASMFC. The reduction in harvest would not be limited to Omega and other purse seine operations but would apply to all menhaden fishing operations on the entire Atlantic coast. Even so, Ben Landry, a spokesman for Omega, said reductions would impact Omega’s operations.
Landry explained that Omega is not free to raise its prices to make up for reduced harvests because it deals in a commodity that has worldwide competition. In order to offset lowered quantities of fish to process and sell, the company would have to find ways to reduce its costs, which might mean shortened fishing seasons for some of the company’s crews.
Travelstead said that the move to protect more of the female menhaden 3-years-old and older is in response to a recent stock assessment that showed menhaden being over-fished in 2008, adding that “over-fished” means that the stocks were below sustainable levels. The idea of protecting the spawners is to create heavier spawns in the hope that more of the larva will survive to reach the inland waters where they grow into adult menhaden. The larval fish are at the mercy of pollution, tides, weather and predators and increasing their numbers might increase the number that reach adulthood.
One problem the regulators face is that by the time any new regulation is in place, new assessments will be out and they might show that the fishery has not been over fished since 2008. It wasn’t in the 10 years prior to that year, Travelstead said.
A draft regulation will be presented in August, Travelstead said and then released for public comment. A vote on its adoption would likely come at the ASMFC meeting in Boston this November.
Once a new regulation is adopted, the ASMFC will have the “monumental” task of allocating the reductions among the numerous menhaden fishing operations along the coast, Travelstead noted.