By Charlie Hutchinson

At the August meeting of the ASMFC Menhaden Management Board the Plan Development Team will respond to the Boards request for new reference points and related information designed to increase abundance of the breeding stock. The Board, presumably, will then approve a draft addendum to be taken to public comment. Approval of the addendum as drafted, or something else as a result of public input, would take place in November. The Plan Development Team may also provide recommendations to achieve the objectives the Board has agreed upon.

In that context there are two areas that may be decided, or at least discussed. One is the use of a management target which would require a smaller catch than the threshold reference point .The present plan includes a target which has not been met, exceeded 32 out of 54 years, and therefore has had no value in terms of managing the stock size. No action has yet been taken to stop the sharp decline in abundance. And action is only now being considered because mortality has exceeded the present threshold. If the harvest had been restricted to the target, perhaps we would not have incurred the steep decline in abundance. So unless a management target level is used to determine what the level of harvest should be, again it will only be an abstract number. Many believe the Plan Development Team will recommend a new and more conservative target with the recommendation that a coastwide quota be based on the target. This technique has been used successfully for other species so there is no reason it could not be effective for menhaden.

The Menhaden Management Board has never operated on this philosophy before and may be reluctant to adopt this methodology .For the public hearings to have any value the public needs to know about how the regulations have been administered in the past and why different methodology will be necessary going forward.  Numbers on paper without enforceability doesn’t work as has been amply demonstrated with menhaden. If you as a concerned individual or organization want to have some voice in shaping the future of menhaden management, you need to know and understand the principles outlined above. If ASMFC does not give you clear and understandable information, make sure they know they haven’t met their responsibility and that their shortfall becomes part of the public record.

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