Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

ASMFC votes on “the most important fish in the sea”

A striped bass caught while munching on menhaden. Photo by Capt. John McMurray.

Excerpted quotes are from the Baltimore Sun and Virginia Daily Press articles. 

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Tuesday, May 5 to develop a system that fully protects the vital role Atlantic menhaden play as a food source for ocean animals. The Commission also approved a modest increase (10%) to the coast wide catch limits on Atlantic menhaden in the two coming fishing years.

After the most recent stock assessment indicated that menhaden stocks may not be as low as scientists previously believed, fishing interests immediately called for an increase in catch limits, but conservationists warned that menhaden levels were still low and that ASMFC should proceed cautiously.

“Commission member William Goldsborough, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, cautioned that while the new study found more menhaden along the coast, it estimated that they were less abundant in the bay. He suggested that the lack of menhaden might be behind declines in other species such as weakfish.”

Looking on the brightside, however, senior scientist Chris Moore said that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation “was pleased that managers agreed to take a “detailed look at the ecological value of menhaden as a forage fish for striped bass, bluefish, osprey and other species.”And Goldsborough adds, “Let’s take the good news about increases and [refill] the food web that’s been waiting a long time.”

Both the Baltimore Sun and the Virginia Daily Press report that the vote strikes a balance between the interests of commercial fishermen and conservationists, and recreational fishermen are also pleased by the vote:

“David Sikorski, an Ellicott City angler and a leader of the Maryland chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, said that while recreational fishermen thought it was too soon to raise the cap, they were glad the commission pledged to develop new limits based on how many menhaden need to be left for other fish to eat.”

Overall, the increase in catch limits favors the industry in the short-term, but the Commission’s decision will be provide positive long-term benefits.

“According to Joseph Gordon with The Pew Charitable Trusts, this is the first time the commission will manage any species based on its wider role in the environment, including as food for other species.

“We think it was a historic and incredibly important decision to move to ecological management of this fishery,” Gordon said in a phone interview. “This will permanently account for and provide for predators and fishermen up and down the coast. And it’ll provide for stability and balanced management for the most important fish in the sea.”


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