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Menhaden Quotas Reduced

Atlantic menhaden caught as part of Maryland's Estuarine Fish Community Sampling Program. Photo Frank Marenghi, Maryland DNR.

Atlantic menhaden caught as part of Maryland's Estuarine Fish Community Sampling Program. Photo Frank Marenghi, Maryland DNR.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to reduce the coast-wide menhaden cap 10 percent, a move that’s being driven by an ecosystem-based approach to fish management.

The fish, which are targeted for products like fish oil supplements, are an important feeder fish for many species, and have been increasingly scrutinized as striped bass populations struggle to rebuild.

In August, commission unanimously adopted a new ecological management system that considers the needs of predator species and is set up to specifically help rebuild the striped bass population and fishery.

Wednesday’s quota decision on menhaden demonstrates that the commission is following through on its commitment to adopt the new ecologically approached management system, according to the American Sportfishing Association.

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“In order to have a high likelihood of rebuilding striped bass, the fishing mortality for striped bass and menhaden must each be maintained at their target levels,” said ASA government affairs vice president Mike Leonard in a statement. “Last year, ASA supported ASMFC’s decision to control fishing mortality for striped bass to its target level, and this decision sets us on the path toward achieving the needed reductions in menhaden harvest to achieve its ecosystem reference point target level.”

In 2021 and 2022, the limit will move from the current 216,000 to 194,400, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

“We’re entering a new age in fisheries management,” commission chair Spud Woodward told the paper. “It’s like a marriage, and like a marriage, it takes compromise to make it work," he added, referring to the general agreement between commercial interests, recreational fishermen and conservationists that the ecosystem management approach was the way to go.

Fisheries overseers have worked for more than a decade to vet various ecosystem models. The selected model includes predator species such as Atlantic striped bass and bluefish, as well as alternative prey, including herring.

“The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission took an important step in curbing harmful menhaden reduction fishing, something recreational fishing and conservation groups have been working on for more than 20 years,” said Whit Fosburgh, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s important to note that the commission’s own science showed that an additional cut is needed to give striped bass a 50 percent chance of meeting target goals. Therefore, additional harvest cuts will likely be needed to ensure the long-term recovery and health of striped bass and other important sportfish.”

Research suggests industrial fishing of menhaden could be responsible for as much as a 30 percent decline in striped bass. Studies show Atlantic menhaden make up between 23 and 66 percent of striped bass diets, according to a letter written by several recreational fishing and conservation groups.

A study determined the 2016 striped bass fishery generated $7.8 billion toward our nation’s gross domestic product.

Omega Protein, which harvests the fish for dog food and fish supplements among other uses, has been scrutinized for quota violations. The company, which is a division of Canadian-owned Cooke Inc., is the only reduction fishing operation on the U.S. East coast. The company harvests more than 140,000 metric tons of fish a year, 74 percent of the total coastwide quota.

“This important first step by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to put science-backed limits on menhaden harvests will help support the entire ecosystem of prized sportfish that our industry’s boaters and anglers count on,” said Adam Fortier-Brown, government relations manager for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, and one of the signers of the letter.

“While more may need to be done in the future, this significant improvement to fisheries management will allow our community to work with ASMFC to continue to reduce fishing mortality, and steward our whole marine ecosystem well into the future,” he said.

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