Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Public Comment Opportunity: ASMFC Deciding the Future of Menhaden Management

A humpback whale gorges on a school of menhaden. Photo credit: Artie Raslich (via The Pew Charitable Trusts).

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) will host a very important meeting for “the most important fish in the sea” on November 13-14 in Baltimore, MD. The ASMFC coordinates the conservation and management of 27 nearshore fish species along the U.S. East Coast; one of these species is Atlantic menhaden, also known as pogies or bunker.

The Most Important Fish in the Sea

Menhaden are a small forage fish that support a larger marine ecosystem including striped bass, tuna, and whales. They even support species that live their lives above the water such as ospreys and eagles. Unfortunately, in recent years, menhaden populations had reached historic lows and their geographic range had drastically shrunk. While menhaden numbers now appear to be on the rise, many of the predators are still struggling. Ensuring an ample supply of menhaden – one of the most important forage species for the East Coast – is crucial for predators, and the businesses that rely on those predators, to thrive.

At its November meeting, the ASMFC will be taking a final vote on Amendment 3 to the Interstate Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden, as well as setting 2018 catch limits. One component of Amendment 3 is to establish ecological reference points (ERPs) in order to move towards an ecosystem-based management approach for menhaden. When the ASMFC held a series of public hearings soliciting initial input for Amendment 3 in 2016, over 25,000 comments favored this move.

Ecosystem-Based Management is the Path Forward

The ASMFC’s current “single-species” approach to managing menhaden and setting catch limits is wrong, and it is time for it to move towards a management approach that considers menhaden’s role in the ecosystem. Even though it will take several more years for technical advisors to develop ERPs for menhaden, there is still action that the ASMFC can take now to improve management beyond the status quo: select Option E in Amendment 3, Issue 2.6.

By adopting Option E, the ASMFC will commit to managing menhaden based on more conservative goals, with a more protective bottom-line threshold than managers do currently under single-species management. Option E allows ASMFC technical advisors to continue to develop menhaden-specific ERPs but in the interim, sets the goal of leaving 75 percent of the menhaden population in the ocean before fishing, as well as a threshold of 40 percent below which the population should not fall. It’s not only common sense to leave more menhaden in the ocean but also what the best peer-reviewed science on forage fish tells us is necessary.

Managing menhaden for their role in the ecosystem will have effects beyond ecosystem health. It will improve fishing opportunities and benefit all stakeholders over time from recreational and commercial fishermen to wildlife and tourism businesses.

The ASMFC is collecting public comments on Amendment 3 through October 20, and you can take action now to support ecological management for menhaden. There is also a series of public hearings already underway at which members of the public have the opportunity to provide oral comment. There are five more hearings scheduled for the New England region including:

  • October 2: Braintree, MA
  • October 3: Portsmouth, NH
  • October 4: Narragansett, RI
  • October 5: Buzzards Bay, MA
  • October 5: Yarmouth, ME

You can find the full public hearing schedule here.

Don’t miss the opportunity to help safeguard the future of the most important fish in the sea!


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