Why Omega Protein Needs to Decrease Their Catch – First Hand Account of Net Efficiency with Pictures

Check this link out for a first hand account of Omega Protein at work with their spotter planes, large ships and large nets taking out a whole school of menhaden. This just can not keep going on.

A few pictures from the link, several more at the link.
Here they are

Now they are gone

Click here for more

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Chart Tells the Story of the Menhaden Spawning Biomass Collapse

Menhaden Biomass DeclineCapt. Wendelin Giebel from Long Island, NY researched accounts of the menhaden fishery going back to Bigelow and Schroeder- Fishes of the Gulf of Maine, G. Brown Goode, NY Times articles dating to the late eighteen hundreds, old fisheries bulletins, local newspaper accounts, wood cuts and prints from the 1800’s, northern landings data,  captains observations etc. In order to account for the observations he estimated there had to be at least 100 adult fish in the waters of the east coast where now there is one (1).

Capt. Giebel put together the graph in this post that shows the menhaden spawning biomass collapse. Even if it is slightly off, it clearly tells a story of the diminished and diminishing menhaden population. ASMFC needs to do something now, not later, later will be too late.

Post comments here or send to: captainwen@optonline.net

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Virginia ASMFC Commisioner Jack Travelstead Not Telling the Whole Story

Alison Fairbrother of the Public Trust Project interviewed a number of ASMFC state commissioners on the controversial ten (yes you read that right 10) year restoration target option that will be included in Amendment 2 to the Menhaden Fishery Management Plan.

Mr. Jack Travelstead, the Virginia commissioner, pointed out that the ten year timeline “was supported by over 1,000 public comments,” what he conveniently left out was the fact that the vast majority of respondents (over 21,000) objected to a ten year option. That’s a 21:1 ratio not supporting the ten year option.

Credit goes to Mr. Travelstead for telling the truth in the interview, but come on Mr. Travelstead, if you are going to tell the story, tell the whole thing, over 21,000 public comments opposed the ten year option.

Click here for the story and interviews.

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Reduction Industry Crosses the Line at ASMFC Technical Committee Meeting

By Richen Brame
Coastal Conservation Association
Atlantic Fisheries Director
May 17, 2012

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Technical Committee (TC) and Stock Assessment Committee (SAC) process is supposed to be a simple one that allows the members, who come from state agencies, federal agencies and academia, to do the technical work necessary to manage marine fisheries. One primary object of this process is to allow only qualified, independent scientists to populate the committees, who can be expected to produce results that are not biased towards any one sector or another. Such scientists insulated from the grind of fishery politics are the very engine on which marine fisheries management runs.

The Commissioners may be the drivers, but the TC and SAC folks provide the horsepower. This process can quickly fall apart if it appears that someone with an agenda is sitting on the committee. Earlier this week, I witnessed just such an event, perhaps the most egregious I’ve seen in attending TC and SAC meetings for 13 years.

To set the scene, the Menhaden Stock Assessment Subcommittee and Technical Committee met to determine what information will go into an assessment update, essentially the data from 2009-2011 which was collected since the last benchmark assessment. As is well known, menhaden are undergoing overfishing and the Board recently set new fishing mortality reference points that are more conservative than the old reference points. To end overfishing, the Board is currently developing Amendment 2 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic menhaden, which will reduce menhaden harvest for all harvesters.
As is also well known, this will be the first time the menhaden reduction industry – Omega Protein in Reedville, Virginia – will have to operate under a quota and will have to limit its harvest to end overfishing.

It was no surprise, then, that Omega Protein hired two pre-eminent stock assessment scientists to represent them at the TC and SAC meeting. Many groups, including Coastal Conservation Association, had representatives there to observe the proceedings. But the Omega representatives went a step further and interacted freely with the Committee. One of them spoke more than any member of the stock assessment committee. At one point, he essentially led the discussion on whatsensitivity analyses were appropriate for the assessment.

This type of interaction is out of bounds, and it casts doubt on the validity of these proceedings. It threatens to make a mockery of the process and transport it back to the dark days when reduction industry representatives controlled both the Menhaden Management Board and the Technical Committee.

The two scientists hired by Omega are some of the best-known stock assessment experts in the world, and their opinions should be available to the SAC and TC, but in a controlled fashion that is fair to all. What the Omega representatives contributed at that meeting may very well have been useful or valuable, but the manner in which they presented it was entirely inappropriate, and tainted the legitimacy of the meeting. Regardless of what they said, the appearance of impropriety cannot be avoided. As paid representatives of Omega Protein, they are at that meeting for one purpose and one purpose only – to represent Omega’s interests. Would they bother to attend such a meeting if the stock was not undergoing overfishing and Omega was not faced with reductions in harvest for the first time in its history?

I think not.

The ASMFC currently has guidelines on public participation under development, but those will not be approved until October. The Committee Chair and staff person are there to facilitate discussion, not referee who gets to speak and who doesn’t. In the meantime, conservationists are left to wonder about a process that appears tainted. As has happened in the past with this highly political fishery, it appears that the ASMFC is allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. Again.

Conservationists and recreational anglers have come too far in our efforts to protect a critical forage base to let these machinations go unchallenged. The ASMFC must rein in Omega Protein and not allow it to gain control of the menhaden management process. Its failure to do so risks destroying any trust the public has in its ability to manage our marine resources.

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Maryland Attorney General Gansler Eyeing Lawsuit over Menhaden Catch Limits

AG says MD may sue if ASMFC doesn’t curb Omega’s harvest enough

by Tim Wheeler

8:20 AM EDT, May 15, 2012

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler says he’s considering going to court if the interstate panel that regulates Atlantic coast fishing for menhaden doesn’t cut back enough the catch of a Virginia-based fleet that takes the lion’s share of the forage fish.

Speaking at a Chesapeake Bay scientific symposium in Baltimore on Monday, Gansler said he was “working with” the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission as it ponders tightening harvest limits on menhaden. Called by some “the most important fish in the sea,” menhaden are a food source for many other fish and wildlife, including ospreys and striped bass, Maryland’s state fish.

“We’re not optimistic they’ll go far enough,” he said of the commission, “but hopefully they will.” The commission is scheduled to take up the issue at its next meeting in August.

Gansler has urged the fisheries commission to impose the bulk of the harvest cutback on Omega Protein, which lands 80 percent of the menhaden caught along the Atlantic coast at Reedville VA for processing into animal food and fish oil supplements.

The other 20 percent are caught for use as bait in other fisheries, including crabbing.  Maryland watermen have said any reductions in their allowed catch could have severe impacts on their livelihood.

Gansler said he’s considering a “reverse Clean Water Act” lawsuita against Omega if he’s not satisfied with the fisheries commission’s action.  The federal law regulates what can be put in the water, he said, so he’s eyeing other legal theories for targeting Omega’s removal of fish from the Maryland waters.

Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun

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ASMFC Colluding with Omega Protein over Menhaden? Read and Decide for Yourself

A May/June issue of the Washington Monthly. tells the story of menhaden regulation from beginning to end and exposes the degree to which the ASMFC has colluded with Omega Protein over the management process. Read the full article here.

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Report says one forage fish in the water is worth two in the net

Predators, including sport fish, sea mammals and birds are susceptible to declines in these species.
By Rona Kobell

Small fish such as herring, menhaden and anchovies are twice as valuable when left in the ocean as when caught in commercial fisheries, according to a new report which calls for management agencies to re-examine how they set their forage fish harvest limits.

The team of scientists from around the country also recommended that catches for most forage fish species should be cut in half to protect both their stocks and the huge array of species that eat them.

“The demand and price for these fish has been increasing, while their crucial ecological role has largely been ignored,” said Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University in New York, who chaired the task force. “If these trends continue, the catch being massive and demand increasing, then we may see catastrophic losses of ocean life.”

The report from the Lenfest Forage Task Force report, “Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a crucial link in ocean food webs,” is the most comprehensive global look at forage fish science and management to date. It analyzed available information about forage fish from around the world – including the Chesapeake Bay – and used sophisticated computer modeling to better understand the role of such fish as capelin and sardines in marine ecosystems.

“There was an extensive amount of original analyses and modeling that went into this,” said Ed Houde, a professor of fisheries science at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a member of the task force. “We didn’t just pull these recommendations out of a hat.”

The role of forage fish, particularly menhaden, has fueled growing controversy in the Chesapeake. Many recreational anglers contend that commercial fishermen harvest too many of the small fish, depriving predators such as striped bass and weakfish of adequate food. Although the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages migratory fish along the East Coast, took action last fall to cut menhaden harvests, the report implies it did not go far enough.

The Bay has already suffered sharp declines of other forage fish in addition to menhaden: Shad and river herring are at record lows in the Chesapeake. River herring – alewife and blueback herring – were claimed to number

3 billion in the Potomac River during spring spawning runs in the late 1800s, but are now at record lows all along the East Coast and are under review for possible protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Concern about forage fish is global. They are small species which often form large schools and provide a critical link in the aquatic food chain by converting plankton into food for predator fish, birds and mammals.

The huge abundance of forage fish inspired the belief that the oceans could not be overfished. But today, many species of forage fish are themselves substantially depleted because of fishing pressure. About 31.5 million metric tons are caught globally each year, making up about 37 percent of the entire wild marine fish harvest.

Most are not consumed by people; 90 percent are processed or “reduced” into fish meal and fish oil, which are used to feed livestock, for aquaculture and other purposes. In recent years, the majority of the forage fish harvest ends up being processed into food for aquaculture, rather than feeding wild fish in the sea, the task force found.

Globally, the catch of forage fish is worth about $5.6 billion, the report said. But it added that forage fish were worth twice as much – $11.3 billion – when left in the water where they serve as food that supports the production of commercially important species such as salmon, tuna, striped bass and cod.

“This analysis understates the full economic value of forage fish, because we have only looked at the value to commercial fisheries production,” Pikitch added. “There is also a very important recreational fishery, and many of these are dependent on the forage fish that feed those important recreational fish.”

The report found that 75 percent of the ecosystems examined around the world contained one or more predatory fish that depend on forage fish for at least half of their diet. Many species, such as whales and seals, often rely heavily on forage fish, too. Sea birds were found to be particularly susceptible to forage fish declines.

The collapse of sardine populations off the California coast caused the diet of a seabird, the marbled murrelet, to shift to lower quality prey, which may have reduced reproduction which, in turn, contributed to its listing under the Endangered Species Act. Elsewhere, declines in species as varied as African penguins, Peruvian pelicans, several species of cormorants, the Peruvian booby and a number of other birds have been linked to declines in forage fish.

Even when forage fish are adequately protected to maintain their own populations, the report said that traditional fisheries management – which typically aims at maintaining the maximum sustainable yield for an individual species – does not ensure that enough are left to support fish, whales, seals, birds and other species that depend on them, a situation called “ecosystem overfishing.”

“With single species management you try to figure out what the best yield is that you can get from that species,” Houde said. “We don’t think enough about, or calculate, the demand by predator fish such as striped bass and bluefish, or tuna and salmon, for forage fish.”

The report said forage fish are as vulnerable to overharvesting and sudden collapses as other fish species. As a result, traditional management techniques may not protect their numbers. Many forage fish form schools, probably as a defense against predators. But the schools are easily targeted by modern fishing techniques that use spotter planes and sophisticated sonars to find fish and report their location to fishing boats. Such effective harvest methods can result in high catches even while stocks are in decline, which means reliance on catch data alone to determine stock health can mask the true state of the population, leading to a collapse, the report said. Also, because forage fish tend to be shorter-lived than larger predator species, their abundances may vary rapidly.

Even when overall stocks are healthy, the concentration of catches in a particular area can deprive local predators of an adequate food supply, something called localized depletion. Birds and marine mammals, in particular, have been shown to be vulnerable if too few fish are available during breeding seasons, the report said.

The panel concluded that to protect forage species and maintain healthy ecosystems, managers should try to leave twice as many forage fish in the water as needed to maintain the maximum sustainable yield under traditional management.

“We didn’t conclude that you shouldn’t fish for forage fish,” Houde said. But the task force recommended that the less information that is available about the population – and the less they know about predators that depend on it – the more cautious managers should be.

Conversely, in well-studied systems, where there is also good information about predator demand, “you might be able to fish harder and take more,” Houde said.

While the report examined the role of forage fish across the globe, it also included the Chesapeake among a number of case studies. Recent menhaden catches have left only about 9 percent of the spawning stock in the water, which the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last fall concluded was too low after a recent stock assessment showed overfishing had occurred in 2008 and a number of previous years. The commission recently set its first coastwide harvest limits for menhaden. It called for leaving a minimum of 15 percent of the spawning stock in the water, with a goal of eventually protecting 30 percent.

But the task force report said menhaden warrant more precautionary management and suggested that further protections may be warranted, especially in the Chesapeake, where a disproportionate amount of the menhaden catch takes place.

Houde called the ASMFC action “a step in the right direction” but said that its new catch levels remain “on the risky side,” in part because they may not protect enough for species that depend on menhaden, from striped bass to birds.

“Fishing is not going to extirpate menhaden,” Houde said. “But if you are fishing at the traditional high rate, one would think that predators on menhaden must be suffering some kind of consequences, and people have recognized what the problem is: It is the localized depletion problem.”

The ASMFC has indicated that it plans to take additional management actions to better account for the ecosystem services of menhaden, such as ensuring adequate food for other fish. But scientists advising the commission have had difficulty determining what that population level should be.

Houde said the task force’s report could help provide direction. “Basically, this is guidance for setting limits on how much biomass you should conserve, and what fishing rates you should incorporate, based on what you know – not just about forage species, but how much you know about demand by predators in the ecosystem.”

The task force was convened by the Lenfest Ocean Program, which supports scientific research on management challenges facing the global marine environment. The program, established by the Lenfest Foundation in 2004, is managed by the Pew Environment Group.

The task force report is available at: www.oceanconservationscience.org/foragefish/

This article is from the Chesapeake Bay Journal

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