“Holy Mackerel!” – Capt. McMurray Sounds Alarms About Unmanaged Forage Fish

Chub mackerel. Image via John McMurray/Marine Fish Conservation Network.

In September, we featured a post by Captain John McMurray that highlighted the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s consideration of an Unmanaged Forage Fish Omnibus Amendment. Since then, at its October meeting the Council voted to move forward on developing the amendment, which Captain McMurray calls “some really forward-thinking progressive/ground-breaking stuff.”

In his follow-up blog to the Council meeting, McMurray summarizes the general comments submitted during the scoping process and sounds alarms that emphasize the critical need for an amendment such as this.

In regards to the comments, “The great majority said the same thing” said McMurrary, “We need to protect the bait now before it’s too late, before investments are made and ‘new’ fisheries are developed without science, and before we have to hit the panic button and figure out how to manage them.”

McMurray also responded to the expected opposition from industry members “who weren’t too keen on the idea.” He says most of the issues raised by the opposition, however, could actually be dealt with through the development of the amendment “with industry input.”

He focuses the remainder of his blog on the noteworthy request of the small mesh net fishery, which is asking for exemptions for certain species that already have documented catches. McMurray says, “[this] is fine I suppose, if they weren’t actually asking for unlimited catch of those species.”

One such species is chub mackerel. Chub mackerel are an offshore forage fish, much like a smaller version of Atlantic mackerel, according to McMurray. If you see chub mackerel schooling in the waters, “it’s a pretty good indication that there are big predators around.”  

McMurray notes, however, “that in the last few years the small mesh net industry, particularly those boats based in New Jersey, really started targeting [chub mackerel]… and catching them in a big way. I’m talking about millions and millions of pounds.”

He continues:

“[The] industry went from catching almost none in 2008 to catching over 5-million pounds in 2013! Yes, this likely has something to do with availability, but that’s an extraordinary escalation in a very short amount of time. I think I speak for more than just myself when I say it caught “us” off guard. The scale is actually greater than some forage fisheries currently managed by the Councils. I mean, a 5 million pound harvest of a forage species, with no science or management in place? Seriously? It’s a little concerning. What we were trying to avoid with the development of this action appears to have actually happened, right under our noses! And hardly anyone knew about it until a few weeks ago.”

McMurray argues that chub mackerel is “now a significant directed fishery, not bycatch or incidental. It is being caught and sold in large numbers. And it does indeed appear to be in need of conservation and management.”

Club mackerel is just one example of why the Unmanaged Forage Amendment is so important and why there is a need for expediency. It shows us, “If they can sell it, they will absolutely harvest it, develop markets, etc. before managers can respond. And that could be disastrous for us and for entire ecosystems…The Council needs to move this amendment. Get it done…as quickly as possible.”

Read John McMurray’s full blog, “Holy Mackerel!”


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