Progress made in menhaden protections at ASMFC meeting on August 8, 2012
On Wednesday, August 8, 2012 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met in Arlington, Virginia to make decisions critical to the future of the Atlantic Menhaden. Delaware's commissioners joined those from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, Florida and the National Marine Fisheries Service in support of releasing the Draft Amendment 2 to the fishery management plan for public comment.
Menhaden are thought to be at an all-time low in abundance, with populations estimated at less than ten percent of known historic levels. The continuation of intensive menhaden fishing in the purse seining fish reduction industry in an already collapsed fishery places the vitality of the coastal aquatic ecosystem, including all the predators that depend upon menhaden, at risk.
The lobbying activities of Omega Protein Corporation in the scientific review of menhaden are a concern, as they have introduced new politics into the technical understanding of menhaden and its potential to recover from intensive overfishing. Omega Protein’s scientists are introducing new data and statistical models for menhaden research that have not yet undergone the rigors of scientific falsification in the menhaden fishery. These methods, including dome-shaped selectivity and aerial surveys outside of the commercial fishery area, should undergo the same rigorous scientific scrutiny as any other fishery management method before such findings are employed in the development of targets or fishery management plans.
There is a great level of uncertainty in the models developed by the ASMFC technical committee for menhaden, and it is clear that a new benchmark is needed to understand the health of the fishery and to assist in establishing catch limits in the future. Developing the data protocols and methods appropriate for modeling menhaden in this data-poor environment are areas that certainly deserve thoughtful consideration.
While fisheries scientists debate the value of stock assessment models and data collection, there is scientific consensus that overfishing is occurring, and has occurred for six decades. Continued delays while the logistics of the scientific modeling of menhaden are being worked out will take time; time that menhaden do not have.
The conservation of our marine resources and the preservation of our aquatic ecosystems are of the utmost importance. Public comment on the draft Amendment will likely occur this fall.
Photo, Purse Seine fishing for Menhaden (NOAA)