Action to Protect Menhaden Postponed

November 10, 2004

Contact:  Kathleen Goldstein, 202-572-3243

(10 November 2004 — Washington, DC)  Conservation and recreational fishing organizations expressed frustration this week when action to protect Atlantic menhaden and the Chesapeake Bay was postponed once again by a multi-state regulatory commission in favor of further research into localized depletion and the ecological role of menhaden.

Menhaden Matter, the cooperative effort that includes the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Environmental Defense and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, said that it was pleased the issue of localized depletion of menhaden in the bay was gaining much-needed attention from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the 15-member interstate body responsible for managing the stock.   However, the group emphasized that proactive management measures-including catch limits-must be taken soon to protect the fish, its predators and the bay.

The ASMFC’s Menhaden Management Board will meet with its scientific advisors in February to begin developing revised goals and reference points to manage menhaden as a forage fish and filter feeder.  The Board considered interim action to cap harvest at current levels while this research is carried out but postponed that decision until a future meeting.

“They got it half right,” said Bill Goldsborough, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  “Developing these management tools is important, but fully responsible stewardship would also include interim measures to protect the stock.”

“The ASMFC is currently monitoring menhaden. Now, they need to start managing them.  With most major fisheries subject to catch limits, why is menhaden immune?” said Dick Brame of the Costal Conservation Association.

Menhaden Matter recently released a report that concludes that the fish’s important ecological role in the Chesapeake Bay is at risk.  Menhaden are the principal filter feeders of the Bay’s waters - second only to oysters that are grossly depleted - as well as the primary food source for many popular sport and commercial fish, including striped bass.  Menhaden Matter has been very clear in its statements that it does not wish to abolish the industrial fishing of menhaden. 

A single Houston-based company, Omega Protein, which operates a newly enhanced fish processing facility in Reedville, Virginia, harvests 90 percent of the industrial fishery catch on the East Coast, with most coming from the Chesapeake Bay. The company has vigorously opposed catch limits on its operations, which use spotter planes and purse seines to harvest the fish, which are processed and reduced into fish meal and oil. 

“Anglers and environmentalists have joined together to offer a reasonable solution to the current management deadlock, one that would provide some temporary protection while research is underway,” says Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation.  “By refusing to consider it, the industry is out of step with the concerns of the public.”

“For a fish that’s so important in so many ways, it’s nonsense to have a management plan that allows unlimited fishing,” said Environmental Defense ocean program director David Festa.  “Common sense calls for caps on catch levels and strong, proactive management measures.”

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