On August 2 the Menhaden Management Board voted to put a proposal for changing menhaden management methods out for public comment. Apparently the menhaden situation has now gotten serious enough that most of the 15 states that make up the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have indicated a desire to hold public hearings on the proposed regulations. Finally there will be an opportunity for the folks whose resource is in jeopardy to weigh in on what happens to the resource. These meetings will take place during September and October. Typically they have not been well attended which conveys the impression that the issue is not important except to the commercial fishing interests.
If you want to see change in how your menhaden are managed, attend and let your views be known to the Commissioners who hold the fate of this species in their hands. At times the language used to describe the state of the stock and the methods used to manage are hard to follow. So, I’m going to break out the facts in a more informal manner so they will be easier to digest.
The proposed addendum to change management methods on a coastwide basis came about because the most recent stock assessment revealed that the abundance of menhaden had declined to the lowest level on record. The age 3+ menhaden were being exploited to roughly 70% which coincides with the decline of young of the year menhaden. The conclusions were that the stock was being overfished in the terminal year of the survey by a very small amount. When the assessment was reviewed by outside experts they concluded that the standards used to determine stock sustainability were not appropriate, and new standards should be determined. They pointed to the fact that the breeding stock (age 3+) was only about 10% of an unfished population where forage fish, as a rule, should be at least 40%. The proposed addendum recognizes this imbalance and proposes a limit of no less than 15% be left in the water.
In addition, the scientists who advise the Board are suggesting that the fishery be managed to a target ranging from 20% to 40% in order to achieve the goal on increased abundance. These changes are being considered as an interim step until an ecosystem based management system could be developed and implemented. Some thought this might be possible in a few years. Others feel that this could not be expected for 7 to 10 years, consequently the steps taken now are important.
Here is some food for thought. It is now generally accepted that the present program doesn’t work and change is necessary. The only way the desired change can occur is by reducing the harvest. Presumably this will affect both the bait and reduction industries. Currently they are both largely unregulated in that there is no coastwide acceptable catch limit, although most states no longer permit purse seining for reduction purposes in their state waters. There are no regulations of any kind in the EEZ (3 miles to 200 miles). Generally the reduction industry catches about 80% of the menhaden while the bait industry takes the remaining 20%. From data in the stock assessment one can calculate that of the total mortality about 30% come from the directed fishery (bait and reduction) and 70% comes from predators and natural demise. Studies have shown that striped bass, in particular, are suffering from malnutrition and other species are reduced in numbers where the preferred food supply is menhaden, when available. Apparently the bait industry is only about 6% of total mortality and is also an irreplaceable function, whereas reduction is not indispensable.
The foregoing are all factors you should consider when you have the opportunity to discuss the need for change and the need for the more conservative options available if we are to avoid a complete collapse of menhaden. If we continue with status quo, that looks like where we are headed.