Menhaden regulations impact other species
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.