by Charlie Hutchinson
As of this stage of the menhaden regulatory process there is not much happening that is visible. On Sept. 27-28-29 there is a meeting of the Menhaden Technical Committee (MTC) and the Multi Species Technical Committee (MSTC). The reason for the the inclusion of the MSTC is to try to improve the data input on predation. The motion to which these committees are responding asks for more recognition of predator needs. Also in that motion by the Menhaden Management Board were requests to derive new reference points for fecundity to increase the % of breeding stock to 15, 25 and 40% of an unfished stock. Recent reports from MCL, a marine research organization, suggest that the appropriate reference points for forage fish should be at 75% minimum for maximum spawning potential. As of the last stock assessment, Atlantic menhaden were at less than 10% and the breeding stock exploitation rate was approximately 70%. All of the above simply puts some numbers around where we are vs. where we need to be. The results of the Technical Committees activity will be the subject of the Nov.8 meeting of the Menhaden Management Board where new regulations should be determined.
While all of this is in flux, there have been some activities in other areas which may have a bearing on what the Commissioners choose to do in the way of taking action to rebuild the stock. First, the new restrictions on the harvest of sea herring in New England resulted in the bait industry turning to menhaden to supplement the reduced quantity of herring available for lobster bait. Since the availability of menhaden in New England waters is low the bait fishery began harvesting menhaden in New Jersey waters. This has resulted in a backlash in NJ because these “bait” vessels are really mid level trawl vessels similar in size to the Omega reduction fleet vessels. All this is occurring while the Reedville fleet increased its harvest (up 45% compared to last year) to offset lost harvest in the Gulf from the oil spill, operating in the same general area. As a result, the NJ legislature enacted legislation to ban these large bait vessels without NJ state licenses from their state waters. However they are free to operate in the EEZ where there are no regulations. Simply put, there is now extra heavy pressure on the Atlantic menhaden stock which is already at historic low levels of abundance.
Finally, much like the general disgust with government or governmental agencies, a lawsuit has been filed against the ASMFC and NMFS due to failure to act with respect to river herring. This applies to New England waters and was initiated by a combined force of recreational and commercial anglers in the Cape Cod area This will be a very interesting case as there has been a general feeling that” you can’t sue the government”. That philosophy was upset by a lawsuit against the EPA. What is important here is the issue of Management performance or lack thereof. In the river herring issue the stock is reportedly down 95%. Look at the similarity to menhaden down 88%. This should lend impetus to new regulations for menhaden. It also indicates the public will not accept halfway measures and will take whatever actions they feel are necessary to see that meaningful steps are taken to have sustainable fisheries. The results should tend to severely curtail industrial fishing operations which are a major factor in the decline of most fisheries.