At the Crossroads: New Ecosystem Plan for Menhaden

On the long road to change, we encounter twists and turns, roadblocks and detours. Right now, on the way to changing the way we allocate Atlantic menhaden among fishermen and other predators in the ocean (e.g., striped bass), we are at a crossroads.

For well over a decade, the ASMFC’s Menhaden Management Board has been stalled at the intersection of “the most important fish in the sea” and the largest commercial fishery on the east coast, unsure of where to go or how to get there.

But finally we’re moving. The vehicle for change is Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Menhaden Plan – which offers the public a choice between a fast lane to “ecological reference points” (ERPs) and a slower, uncharted route – and it goes out for comment and hearings up and down the coast later this month. So it’s time for the many thousands of fishermen and environmentalists, who’ve been leaning on the horn for so many years, to get out and give the ASMFC a push.

During the years of gridlock, a consensus emerged among dozens of independent fishery scientists around a path forward, a practicable approach to setting population targets and catch limits for forage species like menhaden. It’s a common sense ‘rule of thumb’ based on the ecological importance of prey fish and the impacts of fishing on predator-prey relationships, a science-based approach that accommodates the needs (if not the wants) of the fishing industry and is ready to be implemented right away. It’s an approach we described in our 2015 report, Resource Sharing: The Berkeley Criterion: fishing limits designed to maintain the menhaden population at 75% of its un-fished level, considerably higher than the conventional MSY level (~40%).

If adopted, these reference points would stay in place while a team of ASMFC scientists develops multi-species models and evaluates their ability to suggest ERPs more specific to menhaden. This work will be completed by the next stock assessment in 2019, after which the results will be peer reviewed and then tested through what’s called a Management Strategy Evaluation. If adopted by the ASMFC, they likely would not be implemented before 2022.

The strongest argument against delay is the prospect of the fishery being managed another 5 years or more using the current, single-species reference points, which would allow for a more than 40% increase over current catch levels, resulting in a loss of the growth in the menhaden stock we’ve seen in recent years.

With interim ERPs, we’ll keep reasonable limits on the fishery, leaving hundreds of millions more menhaden in the water for predators while allowing fishing at sustainable levels.

This is the choice being put to the public in Amendment 3. Where will the Menhaden Board decide to go when it finalizes the amendment at a special meeting in Baltimore on November 14th? Straight to ERPs in 2018 or take a turn that won’t get us where we want to be for at least another 5 years?

We’re at a crossroads. This is the chance we’ve been waiting for, working for, all these years. Hearings will start soon, so check the Wild Oceans web site regularly for news and blogs on Menhaden Amendment 3, sign up for action alerts, and make your voice heard.

About Ken Hinman

Ken Hinman, president of Wild Oceans, has spent almost 40 years bringing fishermen and environmentalists together to protect the future of fishing.

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