Ask An Expert

Jud Crawford on what recent menhaden decisions mean

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Menhaden might not be a familiar fish to many, but scientists consider it a vitally important link in the Atlantic coast’s food web. These small oily fish are primarily caught by a “reduction” fishery that catches large amounts of menhaden (over 400,000 pounds last year) which is ground into fish oil, fertilizer, pet food and other industrial products. On Wednesday, November 9, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to reduce catch by about 30 percent relative to recent average catch and began the process of managing the fishery to maintain enough menhaden in the ocean for the ecosystem.

There have been many media articles about the decision. We’ve asked Jud Crawford, science and policy manager for the Pew Environment Group (which, along with other environmental and fishing groups, as well as scientists, encouraged the Commission to adopt these new measures) to help us understand the significance of the decision and what it means for the future.

TalkingFish.org:  Why did the Commission act now to do something about menhaden?
Jud Crawford: Long-standing concerns about dwindling menhaden combined with a scientific peer review of the recent stock assessment put a bright light on the need for more protective biological standards for regulating the menhaden fishery. With an enormous outpouring of public demand for action – the Commissioners took action to protect these vital forage fish.

TF: What is different about the way this fishery will be managed using these newly agreed-upon management tools, compared to the way menhaden have been managed in the past?
JC: The new management target will ensure than many more menhaden are left in the water, allowing the stock to grow and provide food for the predators in the ecosystem. The Commission made a clear commitment to aiming at the new target through management measures – this is an important break from the past when targets were exceeded nearly every year since 1955.

TF: Is it possible for the menhaden fishery to be considered “sustainable” in the future, by MSC standards? What would need to happen?
JC: Once the commission implements the new policies that allow menhaden to recover to the management target, they will have made a major step in bringing the fishery closer to what might be viewed as sustainable by modern standards for forage fish. However, considerable additional work will be needed to meet the science-based standards being applied by recognized eco-labeling organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

TF: What are the next steps in the policy process to get these rules implemented on the water?
JC: At its meeting in Boston last week, the Commissioners set into motion a new amendment for its Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden. This amendment will change the rules for the fishery so that coast-wide the fishery will adhere to the new management target. Over the course of the next year the ASMFC will conduct the necessary activities to develop a final amendment in time for implementation in 2013.

TF: Were economic considerations taken into account when deciding to implement the new rules, and what, if any, economic impacts will there be once these rules are implemented?
JC: The Commission based its decisions on scientific information but clearly also considered social and economic factors. The Commissioners discussed the likelihood of near-term economic hardships that may impact the industries that harvest menhaden, but were also attentive to the longer-term benefits to the ecosystem and to a diversity of industries that depend on menhaden in various ways both directly and indirectly.


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