Men­haden reg­u­la­tions im­pact other species

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SPORTS2 - Tee Clark­son out­doors@Times­Dis­patch.com

With the striped bass sea­son open­ing last Wed­nes­day, thou­sands of Vir­ginia an­glers will now turn their at­ten­tion to­ward wind, to­ward tides, to­ward re­ports com­ing out of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and its trib­u­taries as to where and when these pop­u­lar game fish are be­ing hauled aboard boats and primed for the din­ner ta­ble.

While we are still some weeks away from the larger fish show­ing up with any reg­u­lar­ity, many striped bass an­glers know there is some work to be done be­tween now and then that may lead to bet­ter catches and big­ger fish down the line, by com­ment­ing on Draft Amend­ment 3 to the In­ter­state Fish­ery Man­age­ment Plan for At­lantic Men­haden.

Men­haden serve as the oily, high fat for­age species for all sorts of feath­ered and finned preda­tors from striped bass, to os­prey, to whales, and are ar­guably one of, if not the, most im­por­tant fish on the east coast, sim­ply be­cause of the breadth of species they feed.

The At­lantic States Marine Fish­eries Com­mis­sion ( ASMFC) has co­or­di­nated the in­ter­state man­age­ment of At­lantic men­haden since 1981. Men­haden are cur­rently man­aged un­der Amend­ment 2 to the At­lantic Men­haden Fish­eries Man­age­ment Plan. The plan was passed in 2012 and im­ple­mented in 2013, es­tab­lish­ing a To­tal An­nual Catch ( TAC) and al­lo­cat­ing the catch into state quo­tas, of which Vir­ginia cur­rently re­ceives about 85 per­cent.

Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent peer- re­viewed 2015 bench­mark as­sess­ment and 2017 as­sess­ment up- date, At­lantic men­haden are “nei­ther over­fished nor ex­pe­ri­enc­ing over­fish­ing.”

The men­haden pop­u­la­tion seems to be on an up­ward swing as they are re­pop­u­lat­ing some of their his­toric north­ern range on the east coast.

Man­age­ment of game and fish species has proven over the years that the rise in pop­u­la­tion of a spe­cific species shouldn’t au­to­mat­i­cally in­di­cate that loos­en­ing of the reigns on har­vest reg­u­la­tions is a good idea.

Stake­hold­ers have played an im­por­tant role in the man­age­ment of men­haden and many other fish species since the pass­ing of the Mag­nu­son- Stevens Fish­ery Con­ser­va­tion and Man­age­ment Act in 1976 with its key ob­jec­tives of pre­vent­ing over­fish­ing and re­build­ing over­fished stocks.

“The magic of Mag­nu­son is hav­ing coun­sels and com­mis­sions that can work with stake­hold­ers re­gion­ally to man­age the re­sources,” saidTomSadler, Deputy Di­rec­tor of the Marine Fish Con­ser­va­tion Net­work. “The men­haden dis­cus­sion is an ex­em­plar of Mag­nu­son work­ing well.”

Of the is­sues which will be con­sid­ered in Amend­ment 3, none is per­haps more im­por­tant than the es­tab­lish­ment of ref­er­ence points.

Amend­ment 2 es­tab­lished sin­gle- species ref­er­ence points for manag­ing the men­haden stock based on spawn­ing po­ten­tial, fish­ing mor­tal­ity and spawn­ing stock biomass to de­ter­mine whether over­fish­ing was oc­cur­ring.

This is the tra­di­tional method uti­lized in fish­eries man­age­ment. Men­haden were con­sid­ered as a stand- alone species.

Noth­ing in na­ture stands alone. Each species has an im­pact on oth­ers.

Amend­ment 3 in­cludes lan­guage that could es­tab­lish eco­log­i­cal ref­er­ence points ( ERPs) to man­age the men­haden stock. Be­cause of the im­por­tance of men­haden as for­age, the ERPs would “pro­vide a method to as­sess the sta­tus of men­haden not only with re­gard to their own sus­tain­abil­ity, but also with re­gard to their in­ter­ac­tions with preda­tors and the sta­tus of other prey species.”

These other species would of course in­clude pop­u­lar game­fish such as striped bass, co­bia, Span­ish mack­erel, blue­fish, etc.

The es­tab­lish­ment of ERPs is an im­por­tant and nec­es­sary man­age­ment tool for men­haden ac­cord­ing to Chris Moore, the Se­nior Sci­en­tist for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion.

“It’s taken a long time to get to where we are mak­ing head­way in manag­ing men­haden for all its roles in the en­vi­ron­ment,” Moore said.

Moore also pointed to the po­ten­tial clos­ing of loop­holes in how men­haden catch is counted as well as a down­ward ad­just­ment of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay quota as key el­e­ments of Amend­ment 3.

“If we as con­cerned publics are not will­ing to make our voices heard there should be no stand­ing around com­plain­ing about the out­come,” Sadler said.

Fish­eries man­age­ment pol­icy can be dif­fi­cult to wade through, but the ASMFC has done a nice job of sum­ma­riz­ing things at www. asmfc. org. ASMFC will be ac­cept­ing stake­holder com­ments at pub­lic meet­ings or via email on the At­lantic Men­haden Draft Amend­ment 3 un­til 5 p. m. on Oct. 24. Com­ments can be sent to com­ments@ asmfc. org.

Ad­di­tion­ally, sev­eral blog posts ad­dressed Amend­ment 3 in Septem­ber on the Marine Fish Con­ser­va­tion Net­work web­site con­serve­fish. org.

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