Atlantic Menhaden Advisory Panel Deadlocked on ERPs and TAC

Atlantic menhaden, photo via John McMurray.

Photo: Menhaden, by Capt. John McMurray

The Atlantic menhaden Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is scheduled to meet November 13th and 14th to determine the fate of Amendment 3, which proposes changes to the fishery management plan (FMP).

Last week the Atlantic menhaden Advisory Panel (AP) to the Board met to review public comment on key amendment issues. Representatives from the AP include conservation groups as well as recreational fishermen and commercial bait and processing fishermen and representatives.

Key issues discussed at the AP meeting on October 26th in Philadelphia included the establishment of ecological reference points (ERPs) for the species. ERPs aim to leave enough fish in the water not only for sustainable growth of the species, but also for ecological reasons, such as having enough fish as prey for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, osprey and other species. ERPs are also set for environmental reasons. For example, Atlantic menhaden are filter feeders and many say contribute greatly to cleaning water in our ocean, bays and coves.

The advisory panel took no vote on ERPs, as it became clear that those representing commercial fisheries were advocating for no ERPs until the Board receives a research report that establishes species specific ERPs. This input will likely not be available for policy making consideration until 2020. Recreation and conservation representatives on the AP were advocating for an interim “rule of thumb” ERP of 75 percent, meaning that 75 percent of the Atlantic menhaden would be left in the water for ecological reasons, and all fisheries would divide the remaining 25 percent.

For the first time, the panel reviewed stock projections for the interim reference point options listed in Draft Amendment 3. The 75 percent ERP (recommended in options D and E) would allocate a 147,000 metric tons total allowable catch (TAC) limit, whereas the current TAC is 200,000 metric tons. Options A and B in the amendment would set the TAC at 314,500 metric tons.

The processing industry voiced their objection to a reduced TAC because under the present single species management TAC the Atlantic menhaden are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. Industry was actually vying for a TAC increase from 200,000 metric tons to somewhere between 220,000 and 240,000 metric tons. The Omega Protein (fish processor that harvests about 85 percent of the TAC) representative on the panel, Perter Himchak said, “I want to go on record as supporting a 240,000 pound catch limit; however, at the very least we want to be left whole with the new TAC, taking it back to at least 212,500 metric tons before TAC reductions were made and perhaps splitting surplus over that amount 30/70 percent with the bait fishery.”

David Sikorski, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, said, “We believe ERPs need to be established now in Amendment 3 at the 75 percent level; however, we do not need to work toward the number of 147,000 metric tons, but rather a phased in ERP that gets us to 75 percent. We all expect that 75 percent number to grow in the next two to three years as the biomass of this species continues to grow. However, if we take too many fish out of the water next year, we are concerned it will deter the rebuilding gains that have occurred with this species in recent years. No one wants to go backwards.”

The AP took three votes concerning allowable catch limits (a 200,000, a 220,000 and a 240,000 TAC), which were all defeated. The panel’s not reaching a consensus on ERPs or a 2018 TAC sets the table for a controversial Atlantic menhaden Board meeting on November 13th and 14th.

About Dave Monti

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a vice president of the RI Saltwater Anglers Association, an active member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council.

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