Atlantic States’ Vote on Management of Critical Forage Fish Opens Door for Better Study

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Commission vote falls short of considering ecosystem-wide impacts in management of Atlantic menhaden but establishes new reference points for future decisions

BALTIMORE — Today, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to continue its current management approach for Atlantic menhaden, the second-most heavily commercially fished species in the nation and a critically important food source for sportfish like striped bass. With this vote, menhaden will continue to be managed as a single species until menhaden-specific ecological reference points can be developed. The Commission further decided to allocate a 0.5% minimum for each state and set the coastwide total allowable catch at 216,000 metric tons for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Recreational anglers have strongly advocated for an ecosystem-based management approach that considers the menhaden’s role in the food chain and factors in predator/prey relationships when setting catch limits. Anglers, small businesses, environmentalists, and other stakeholders from all twelve ASMFC-managed states submitted hundreds of comments and turned out for fifteen public hearings up and down the coast in support of Option E to advance a more aggressive timeline for an ecosystem-wide management approach, before the states ultimately decided to maintain current management practices.

“The recreational fishing and conservation community looks forward to working with the Commission to set and implement these new ecological reference points as quickly as possible,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership “We knew this would be a long-term process and we are ready to move forward with the best available science and are taking a long-term view. Moving to an ecosystem-based management of this important forage species is not only good for our fisheries, but also critical for our coastal economies, which get a substantial boost from reliable and sustainable recreational fishing opportunities.”

The importance of Atlantic menhaden, also known as pogey or bunker, is clear to recreational fishermen on the East Coast. As high-protein forage fish that striped bass, tuna, mackerel, sharks, drum, cobia, and tarpon depend on for food, the abundance of menhaden often determines the likelihood of a good day on the water. In addition, menhaden help filter water and improve marine habitats. By feeding on algae-causing plankton, an adult menhaden can filter 2.4 gallons of water per minute, providing a valuable service in a place like Chesapeake Bay, where nutrient runoff becomes concentrated.

Check the ASMFC’s website for the full meeting summary and latest menhaden stock assessments.