by Charlie Hutchinson
Mark your calendars for March 22. On that date the Menhaden Management Board meets to consider what restoration options will be given to the public for input prior to decision time in August. Presumably the meeting should be pretty unremarkable. The Technical Committee (TC) will report the results of the corrections to the latest stock assessment which, from what we hear, will put the stock in the “overfishing is occurring” category. That should cause Omega to withdraw the “there is no problem” advertising they have been touting for so long.
More importantly it is expected that the TC will respond to the Board’s charge by supplying the new reference points ( standards for stock status) reflecting changes to put up to 40% of an unfished breeding stock off limits for harvest. The current level of remaining breeding stock is estimated at less than 10% of an unfished stock. In addition the TC is to tell the Board what reduction in harvest would be required to meet each of the targeted levels. All of this information will be necessary to be included in the proposed addendum to be put forth for public comment so that the public clearly understands where we are now and what it will take to make strides toward restoring menhaden abundance to an appropriate level.
It has been stated repeatedly by fishery scientists that forage fish, such as menhaden, need to be managed differently than predators that depend on them. Recent recommendations by scientists (external to the Menhaden TC) are that 75% of an unfished breeding stock needs to remain unexploited. Consequently, a 40% level can hardly be considered harsh. Realistically it should be viewed as a stepping stone to the desired end point of “ecological reference points”. That is a work in progress but it is unlikely to be achieved anytime soon. Hence the desire for corrective measures soon.
All the above seems straightforward enough. Therefore a routine management meeting could be expected. That is until one looks at what Omega may bring to the table to liven it up. They have hired some impressive technical talent whose task appears to be to stop the process if possible, failing that, to get the 40% off the table. The next highest level under consideration is 25%. Their objective then would be to negotiate to a level Omega finds acceptable. It is also possible that Omega might supplement the brains with some brawn in the form of union presence and possible social activists as well. Certainly their presence has been displayed on other occasions where Omega’s well being was felt to be threatened.
Should those types of activity occur to pressure the Commissioners, it is not out of the realm of possibility that there might be an equally strong public pressure to see that the public gets a level playing field. If any of these sorts of activities occur, what should be a prosaic meeting could get downright interesting. However the real action, if anything of substance is undertaken, will occur at the August meeting. There the Commissioners will have to decide what measures they are willing to put in place, and how much heat they are prepared to handle.