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Progress on Menhaden, River Herring at ASMFC

2/10/12 New management measures to conserve Atlantic menhaden moved another step closer to becoming reality on February 9th when the ASMFC’s Menhaden Management Board approved a Public Information Document asking for public comment on how and when to meet a new rebuilding target adopted last November. The new population target, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, will “increase abundance, spawning stock biomass, and menhaden availability as a forage species.”

“The commission is so far keeping to its tight schedule to approve the menhaden amendment this year and get new catch limits into place by the 2013 fishing season,” says Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) and a member of the interstate Menhaden Advisory Panel, “That’s important, because these new fishing limits are critical to restoring menhaden as a forage species from Maine to Florida.” Striped bass, tuna and osprey are just a few of the marine species that depend on menhaden as prey in east coast waters.

Although the goal of restoring menhaden has been set, the Public Information Document, or PID, will seek input from stakeholders on a wide range of management issues to be addressed in Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden. These include whether to reduce fishing pressure immediately or phase the cutbacks in over time; the best means of monitoring and counting catch and bycatch in both state and federal waters; and potential measures for regulating the commercial and bait fisheries.

The ASMFC will meet in May to review submitted comments and identify the measures to be included in Draft Amendment 2. The amendment, with specific management options, will be approved in August for another round of public comment and coast-wide hearings in the fall. The final amendment is slated for adoption in late October.

NCMC will publish information on how interested fishermen and environmentalists can review the PID and submit comments as soon as that information is available.

In other action, the ASMFC’s Shad & River Herring Management Board, in response to a request submitted by NCMC, agreed to provide updated information on state river herring regulations, many of which have changed significantly as a result of Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Shad & River Herring. Amendment 2 required states to close their commercial and recreational river herring fisheries by January 1, 2012 unless a sustainable fishery plan was approved by Board. The requirement also applies to bycatch fisheries in state waters, when river herring are caught incidentally along with a targeted species.

Most states have chosen to implement closures, including restrictions on ocean bycatch landed within the state. Understanding these new regulations is important as the public prepares to weigh in on river herring bycatch monitoring and reduction measures proposed in the New England Fishery Management Council’s Amendment 5 to its Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan and the Mid-Atlantic Council’s Amendment 14 to the Mackerel, Squid and Butterfish FMP.

Annual river herring losses due to bycatch in federally-managed fisheries are thought to be between 2 and 5 million fish, but poor catch monitoring in high volume trawl fisheries for Atlantic herring and mackerel prevents a more precise estimate. Both council amendments are expected to be released for public comment in the coming weeks. The NEFMC is expected to take final action on Amendment 5 during its April meeting in Mystic, CT. Final action on Amendment 14 is scheduled for the MAFMC June meeting in New York, NY.

To develop its comments on Amendment 5, the ASMFC formed a working group comprised of representatives from its Shad & River Herring Management Board and Atlantic Herring Section. NCMC Executive Director Pam Lyons Gromen is the ASMFC Shad & River Herring Advisory Panel Chair and will serve on the working group. The Shad & River Herring Board will deliberate on Amendment 14 alternatives at its next meeting in May.