Menhaden Get a Win

Last week the ASMFC Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board approved Addendum V to Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden. The Addendum establishes a new interim fishing mortality threshold and target (based on maximum spawning potential or MSP) with the goal of increasing abundance, spawning stock biomass, and menhaden availability as a forage species. The new threshold and target equates to a MSP of 15% and 30%, respectively. The Board has
initiated development of an amendment to establish management measures for all fishing sectors and gear types to implement the new fishing mortality reference points. The percent of harvest reductions associated with the new reference points as well as an implementation process and timeline will be identified in the Draft Amendment.

The MSP approach identifies the fishing mortality rate necessary to maintain a given level of stock reproductive potential relative to the potential maximum stock productivity under unfished conditions. A 15% MSP would equate to a fishing mortality rate threshold required to maintain approximately 15% of the spawning potential of an unfished stock. An unfished stock is equal to 100% MSP. Given the current fishing mortality equates to a MSP of approximately 8%, the new reference points are intended to provide increased protection for spawning adults, which given optimal environmental conditions, may result in increased juvenile abundance. This approach is consistent with the recommendations of the 2009 stock assessment peer review panel.

With the newly adopted fishing mortality reference points, the fishing mortality threshold is set at F= 1.32 and the target is set at F= 0.62. Based on the revised 2009 Atlantic menhaden stock assessment and the new fishing mortality threshold, overfishing is occurring. Fishing mortality in 2008 (the latest year in the assessment) is estimated at 2.28. Based on the current reference point to evaluate stock condition, Atlantic menhaden are not overfished.

The first step in the amendment process will be the development of a Public Information Document (PID), which will contain preliminary discussions of biological, environmental, social, and economic information, fishery issues, and potential management options for action. The PID also provides for public input about changes observed in the fisheries; actions that should or should not be taken in terms of management, regulation, enforcement, and research; and any other concerns about the resources or the fisheries. A Draft PID will be presented to the Board at the Commission’s Winter Meeting in February 2012.

This is how the the National Coalition of Marine Conservation summed things up

East coast fishery managers are finally treating menhaden as if it really were the most important fish in the sea. On August 9th, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to end years of overfishing and triple the population of this small silvery prey fish, an essential source of food for so many marine predators.

The interstate commission, meeting in Boston this week, approved new targets and limits for the menhaden fishery. The overfishing threshold was raised to 15% of the population’s maximum spawning potential (or %MSP, a measure used to assess a fish stock relative to its unfished state). Most importantly, a new population target was set at 30%MSP. To put this into perspective, the ASMFC’s 2010 stock assessment estimated the current population at less than 10%. It’s been kept at this low level for years, to keep catches high for the reduction industry; one company, Omega Protein, with a fleet of 10 vessels that catches 80% of the coast-wide landings, over 183,000 metric tons in 2010.

Why the historic change in how menhaden are managed, and why now? “The ASMFC took a fresh look at the state of the resource, considered emerging standards for conserving forage fish like menhaden, and listened, not just to the industry, but to the broad public constituency the commission represents,” says Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC).

It took a lot of work to get to this day. For 10 years, the NCMC participated in nearly every meeting that had anything to do with menhaden held by ASMFC or other state/federal management and research institutions. The reason we’ve devoted so much attention to this little fish is simple, says Hinman: “An abundance of menhaden is of crucial importance to the future of striped bass, bluefish, bluefin tuna, osprey and other seabirds, whales, the health of east coast estuaries like Chesapeake Bay, and the future sustainability of many Atlantic fisheries, recreational and commercial.”

The new target and threshold, now part of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden, will require a reduction in landings of 37% percent from 2010 levels. New management and allocation measures for the reduction fishery and the fisheries that catch menhaden for the bait market will be developed through an amendment to the FMP in 2012, with a goal of implementing the catch limits in the 2013 fishing season.

This is how Stephen Medeiros, President of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association summed things up:

The “Pogey Bus” traveled from RI to Boston yesterday taking a bunch of RISAA members to the ASMFC Menhaden Management Board’s meeting in Boston.
Here is a report on what happened: A VICTORY FOR MENHADEN! – Steve

The ASMFC’s Atlantic Menhaden Board (Board) voted new management measures that should end overfishing and increase the coastal menhaden stock to new sustainable numbers.

For the past several years, fishermen and environmental groups have complained that the amount of menhaden taken by the reduction industry – measured in metric tons – needed to be restricted. But commercial interests, especially in Virginia, the home of Omega Protein which takes 80% of the entire coastal catch, resisted changes.
In 2010 alone, Omega Protein harvested 160,000 metric tons (404 million pounds) which is reduced (ground up) for fish meal and oil used in pet food, livestock and aquaculture feed, paints and cosmetics.

Finally, the science caught up with the reports of fishermen and showed that overfishing WAS occurring on the coastwide stock of menhaden, the “most important fish in the sea.”
The Menhaden Board charged their Menhaden Technical Committee (made up of marine biologists from participating states) to come up with a suite of possible management measures that would be put out to to the public on how much change should be made, and then how to implement any changes.

Over the past several months, public hearings were held along the Atlantic Coast., and the Board received a report on the hearings at the start of the meeting.
(Many RISAA members were in attendance. The RISAA goal was a 15% threshold and 30% target.)

The public hearing comments and individual letters received totaled over 91,000.

The Menhaden Management Board is comprised of three commissioners from each of the 15 Atlantic coastal states, although each state gets one vote so the commissioners usually caucus to determine their state’s vote. Also on the Board is the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Potomac River Commission.

The first order of business was whether or not to change the management threshold. At the current threshold, according to the latest stock analysis, the fishery was not overfished, but overfishing is occurring. Two options were presented:

1. Status Quo (no change)
2. Change threshold to 15% of Maximum Spawning Potential (MSP). This means if the mature population of menhaden falls below 15% it will be considered overfished.
Of the public comments received, 91,141 were in favor of 15% and 35 said status quo.
The vote by the Board was taken and they agreed by unanimous vote to change the threshold to 15%.

Next was the decision on a new management Target ( how much of the mature fish must be left in the water). The options were;
1. Status Quo (no change)
2. 20% of MSP (would require a 27% catch reduction over 2010 levels)
3. 30% of MSP (37% reduction over 2010)
4. 40% of MSP (45% reduction over 2010)

There was much discussion from various state board members. Finally, Lynn Fegley (Maryland) made a motion to change the target to 30% of MSP. This was seconded by Rep. Peake (Massachusetts), but quickly an amendment to that motion was then proposed by Jack Travelstead (Virginia, home of Omega Protein) to change the proposal to 20% of MSP, seconded by Peter Himchak (New Jersey). Much discussion followed on the amended motion and finally a vote was taken 5 in favor of amendment, 12 opposed. The motion for 20% failed.
Rhode Island voted in favor of the 20% motion along with VA. (We were disappointed in our state’s vote – Steve)

Once the amended motion failed, the original motion of 30% was put to a vote.
This final vote passed 14 – 3, with only Virginia, New Jersey and Potomac voting no.
(Rhode Island now changed it’s vote to go with the majority this time)

So, the result was now a 15% Threshold and 30% Target, exactly what we hoped for!
This was definitely a win for menhaden.

The work is not yet done. Now that we have new targets in place, the ASMFC must come up with ways to achieve them.
Rhode Island is the “poster child” of menhaden management with closed areas, restrictions on nets, observers and fly-overs, school counts, etc. Other states don’t do this, and the ASMFC will have to come up a new suite of measures to control catches.
Many possible proposals had been included in the coastal public hearings that had been held, and those results will now be used to help decide future regulations. We can expect more meetings and more public hearings during 2012 before the final management plan is in place.

There were many others who summed things up in emails, news paper articles and put out press releases, but I think the above gives you a flavor for what is being said.

We’d be doing a disservice to single out certain groups or individuals for all their hard work in the effort, with out question the result was because of everyone’s hard work. We thank all those involved and congratulate everyone on a win. We still have work to do, but I am greatly encouraged by how far we’ve come, where we are and the good things to come for menhaden.

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4 Responses to Menhaden Get a Win

  1. dan says:

    great site thanks for the update– i linked some of your articles to our website at –keep up the great work. IF if were not for the internet it is hard to imagine the ability to force this type of change.


  2. GDN says:

    All I can say is nice going. Your hard work paid off. I hope the new regs. are easy to manage.

  3. mike says:

    This is great news.It’s about time that fisherman show the power of their opinion.Next step is to get Striped Bass classified as a sportfish and end commercial fishing for them.

  4. Wendelin Giebel says:

    There were no menhaden again this year (2013) in our harbor here on the Long Island Sound . The 30 % MSP relies on ASMFC data and modeling which has shown itself to be wholly useless and fictitious nonsense. There are less than 1% of the fish that were once here are left in the water now. The numbers generated by ASMFS are myth.
    The catches should be reduced 70% or more to make up for the decades of chronic overfishing. This species should be returned to historic levels in our water if we want to see healthy fisheries along our coasts . New York’s fisheries have suffered enormously from this madness.

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