MENHADEN MUDDLE #16 What Would Izaak Do?
by Charlie Hutchinson
As the November 8 ASMFC Menhaden Management Board meeting approaches, new information is surfacing. The Menhaden Technical Committee and the Multi-Species Technical Committee will be able to evaluate for the Board the effects of Maximum Spawning Potential (MSP) reference points requested by the Board at the August meeting.
While the specifics won’t be available until the meeting, it is apparent that Omega Protein is gearing up for a fight. They have hired additional fishery scientists apparently for the purpose of refuting the need for changes in the fishery plan.
For many years Omega has defended their exploitation of the menhaden stock, saying the best available science showed that there was no problem, and that overfishing was not occurring. Recent stock assessments say otherwise, and new standards for judging adequacy of the stock levels have been recommended. For Omega to suddenly reject the methodology that they have heretofore embraced, would simply demonstrate that Omega will do whatever it feels is necessary to avoid action restricting their ability to meet their production needs, irrespective of the costs to the ecology and the public.
There is little doubt that Omega’s scientific advisors can poke holes in the existing science. Fishery science is imprecise at best, and a good deal of judgment is required in what data is put into the models to generate stock assessments and related parameters. Accordingly, one scientist’s guesses are as good as another’s. At least the present system has some consistency. Knowing this, all parties up to this point have accepted the best available current science to guide their stock decisions.
All the bickering over technical analysis begs the issue as to what is at stake here. It is an accepted fact that the present management methods have resulted in the lowest stock levels on record. It is also generally accepted that we cannot satisfy predator requirements and that of an industrial scale commercial fishery. If we cannot have both, then a decision has to be made as to who or what gets what portion of the stock. That decision cannot be made on biological information alone.
The products Omega makes from menhaden can be made from sources that do not require fish as raw material. While menhaden-based products are useful, they do not represent the most beneficial use of this resource to our economy. Economic analyses repeatedly indicate that commercial and recreational fishing contribute many times the economic input of the reduction fishery. Common sense would then indicate that the most important contribution to the economy be given precedence. Economics and ecology both dictate that forage fish be managed for the public interest.
It appears that the ASMFC Menhaden Management Board has accepted the fact that significant changes have to be made in the fishery management plan to restore the stock. As more information becomes available, it is becoming clear that forage species have to be managed differently than the predator and other species which depend on them. Taking halfway remedial measures will not get us out of the hole we’ve dug. The sooner we get proper regulations in place, the better. Most of the stakeholders in this issue will be supportive of decisive action on the part of the ASMFC to stop the bleeding, and get us on a path to having menhaden free to perform the ecological role they were designed for.