Last Friday, officials finally placed a catch limit on the critical Atlantic menhaden fishery. There has never been a catch limit for Atlantic menhaden until now.
“The Wild West fishery that’s been going on with menhaden — to have a fishery that’s essentially been unregulated, it’s unheard of,” said Darren Saletta, the executive director of the Massachusetts Commercial Striped Bass Association.
Regulators voted to reduce the harvest of Atlantic menhaden–a small fish that’s rarely eaten by humans–by 20 percent. While it’s not directly an important seafood commodity, Atlantic menhaden is essential to the Atlantic ecosystem. They eat phytoplankton, keeping the water clear, and they provide food for bigger fish like striped bass and bluefish, as well as marine mammals and seabirds.
“Menhaden’s one of the linchpins of the near-shore ecosystem in the East Coast,” said Peter Baker, the director of the Northeast fisheries program for the Pew Environment Group, during Friday’s meeting. He noted that the menhaden stock has fallen by about 90 percent in the last 30 years.
The decision was met with controversy from fishers, conservationist groups and employees from Omega Protein, the largest commercial menhaden fishing group. Omega grinds up its catch to be used in fish-oil supplements, fertilizer and animal feed. Ben Landry, Omega’s director of public affairs, explained that his company hasn’t noticed a decline in population, which is why they supported only a 10 percent reduction in the catch.
Another review will be conducted in 2014 when stock assessments are available.
To learn more:
- Read this article from the NY Times: Broad Catch Limits Are Put on an Unglamorous but Essential Fish
- Check out the Menhaden Defenders who support strict catch limits
- Read this related article from Phys.org about declining menhaden populations: New menhaden study will help identify balance between fishing and preserving Bay forage fish
- Find out about Pew’s Atlantic Menhaden Campaign
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