Most folks know that the ASMFC’s Menhaden Board has finally taken action to begin the process of restoring the menhaden population. The objectives are stated in two forms. One, a “threshold” or limit where if mortality has exceeded the anticipated level action to meet the objective of 15% of the mature stock left in the water must be taken. To make this goal achievable, a target equal to 30% left in the water was established. To achieve the target a reduction in harvest of 37% would be required using the 2010 harvest as a base. Reductions would apply to total landings which would impact both the bait and reduction industries. Currently the reduction industry takes +/- 80% of the harvest (all landings in Virginia) while the bait harvest takes up the other 20% up and down the Atlantic Seaboard While the objectives were clearly stated in Board action, a commitment to manage to the target was not. The implication is that this issue would be addressed in upcoming sessions where the methods to be employed to achieve these goals will be decided.
The business of allocating the allowable catch among the various interests will be difficult at best. For the first time it will be necessary to restrict income production from various business enterprises from a family operated pound net to Omega’s very sophisticated fishing and processing activities. It will become a pocketbook issue where all will suffer some, some more than others. There are no directives that specify that all participants would be curtailed equally, the Board has complete latitude in how they apportion the allowable catch if quota is the chosen method for management of the harvest. This immediately raises the concerns about jobs disappearing; how many and whose?
One of the documents which was produced just in advance of the November 9 meeting was the long awaited Economic Study by VIMS. This document contained some 226 pages. Given the timing, it is unlikely that the Commissioners paid much attention to its contents. The study covered only the area surrounding the Chesapeake Bay although decisions regarding menhaden are coastwide. The authors frankly admitted that a coastal evaluation was not feasible. Some of the data contained indicate that Omega’s sale volume has increased appreciably to $ 60,000,000, due for the most part to an increasing market for fish meal products without a commensurate increase in availability leading to rapidly increasing prices. Employment at Reedville was steady at 300 during peak periods. Seasonal labor is a significant factor as the data indicates roughly 100 employees during the slack season. Some of the other data in this voluminous document are quite interesting. One of the tables indicates that if total reduction harvest was limited to 81,000 metric tons the plant would be at break even. From an average harvest of 141,000 metric tons a cut of 40% would be required to put total employment in jeopardy. While reductions of as much as 37% from 2010 harvest of 183,000 metric tons have been calculated, it does appears, if the data is accurate, that severe reductions would in fact take place but the claim of 300 jobs does not seem valid. It could be that the issue of jobs and impact on the surrounding area is considerably less important than the loss of profit at the corporate level. A large portion of the study examines how people value fish left in the water versus employment at Reedville. I’ve really got to study this in more depth to see if such an evaluation is likely to accurately predict how people would react if given all the pertinent information .
Charlie Hutchinson is with the Maryland Saltwater Sportsman’s Foundation (MSSA). The views here are his own and do not necessarily express those of the entire Menhaden Coalition.