A new update to the menhaden stock assessment for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found that the resource is not overfished or experiencing overfishing.
The commission’s acceptance of the report on Aug. 3 came as critics of the Reedville, Va.-based Omega Protein cutback fishing fleet put increased political pressure on state officials to they’re restricting fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.
The nets spilling from the menhaden that washed up on the beaches were one of the sources of the latest resentment. But the actions of the ASMFC at its meeting in Alexandria, Va., addressed the broader, long-standing debate over the recreational fishing industry’s belief that menhaden seiners take too many forage fish that feed bass. striped and other species.
“Significantly, this assessment was made using new ecological benchmarks, standards that take into account the needs of predatory species when determining the sustainable status of menhaden,” according to a statement from the Menhaden Fisheries Coalition, a statement. industry group.
“The ASMFC Ecosystem Reference Points have been developed over the years, with support from industry, recreational fishers and environmental groups, to move away from the management of isolated species and consider the needs predator species and the ecosystem as a whole,” the coalition said. said.
The stock assessment update comes after a coalition of 22 recreational fishing and marine industry groups sent a June 14 letter to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin asking “that you move fishing reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay until science demonstrates that high volume reduction fishing for menhaden can be permitted without negatively affecting the wider ecosystem of the bay.
“The detrimental impact of menhaden reduction fishing on the ecosystem is so pronounced that it is banned in every East Coast state except Virginia. However, each year more than 100 million pounds of menhaden are being removed from the Chesapeake Bay and ‘reduced’ into fishmeal and fish oil for pet food and salmon feed by a foreign company – Cooke Inc.”, wrote the defenders of the sport fishing.
The campaign was promoted by the American Sportfishing Association with a petition to Youngkin to end commercial menhaden purse seine fishing. Recreation advocates argue that fishing in the bay contributes to the currently overfished status of striped bass.
In a July 20 letter to Youngkin, Republican state legislator Timothy Anderson called for the fishery to be expelled from bay waters, citing a possible dumping of menhaden on July 4 from nets that are beached in the county of Northampton.
With the political temperature rising, Omega Protein and its partners Ocean Harvesters acknowledged a fish spill on July 25. After making a catch of fish off Kiptopeke State Park near Cape Charles in Northampton, the captain of a seiner noticed a group of red drums in the net, according to a statement from the companies.
“He immediately asked the crew to open the net and release the fish. The crew observed many fish moving away, but the captain acknowledged that many fish likely died during the incident,” the statement said.
The incident likely happened after a shoal of red drums swam below the menhaden, where they could not be seen by the observation pilot of the boat circling overhead, it said. Companies. They notified the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and organized a cleanup of fish floating in the bay and called in a response team to retrieve fish that washed ashore.
The ASMFC stock assessment update has been a boost for commercial fishers.
“Significantly, this assessment was made using new ecological benchmarks, standards that consider the needs of predatory species when determining the sustainable status of menhaden,” according to the Menhaden Fisheries Coalition.
“In the past, single-species stock assessments that found the menhaden to be healthy and not overfished have been criticized by some for failing to consider interdependencies between species,” the group said. . “The ASMFC Ecosystem Reference Points have been developed over the years, with support from industry, recreational fishers and environmental groups, to move away from the management of single species and consider the needs predator species and the ecosystem as a whole.
“Despite this scientific discovery, special recreational interests are continuing a campaign to end the menhaden fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.”
At the commission’s August meeting, its Atlantic Menhaden Management Board approved a draft addendum to Amendment 3 to the interstate menhaden management plan, submitting it for public comment.
The addendum examines potential changes to the provisions of Amendment 3 for commercial allocations; the Scheduled Episodic Events (EESA) program; and the provision on bycatch and small-scale fishing (IC/SSF).
According to a commission summary, “The EESA and IC/SSF arrangements have been impacted by recent landing trends, particularly in New England, which has seen an increase in menhaden abundance and demand for bait these last years”.
New England states rely on EESA to keep their commercial fisheries open, while working to secure quota transfers from other states. These trends have led to increased landings under the IC/SSF provision once commercial quotas have been reached, according to the commission.
“The draft addendum’s options seek to align state quotas with recent landings and resource availability while maintaining access to the resource for all states, reduce reliance on quota transfers, and minimize regulatory releases,” according to the commission.