If you care about menhaden, striped bass, bluefish, bluefin tuna, osprey and other seabirds, whales, the health of East Coast estuaries like Chesapeake Bay, or the future of Atlantic fisheries in general, you now have an opportunity to support conservation measures that would restore menhaden to its rightful place as “the most important fish in the sea.”
On August 2nd, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to send a range of options for rebuilding menhaden out for public comment. Draft Addendum V to the Atlantic Menhaden Fishery Management Plan, approved by an overwhelming majority at the 15-state commission’s summer meeting, raises the overfishing threshold while proposing new rebuilding targets, all of which will substantially increase menhaden abundance.
The public has an opportunity to weigh in on these so-called “reference points” at hearings all along the East Coast this fall, as well as through written comments. The ASMFC will formally adopt the new population targets and fishing limits in November, after which it will develop appropriate management measures, such as quotas and allocations, for review and adoption in early 2012.
It’s an historic moment and it’s been a long time coming. Finally, the ASMFC is recommending strong action to end years of depletion, action that will revive the heartbeat of the East Coast food web.
I testified on behalf of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation of which I am the president at the August meeting in Alexandria, Virginia, after working for months with commissioners and the Menhaden Plan Development Team to include conservative rebuilding targets as options in the draft addendum.
The addendum sets a new overfishing threshold of 15 percent of the spawning potential of an unfished population (or MSP), which would be about double the current threshold. Years of heavy exploitation, primarily by the reduction fishery operated by Virginia-based Omega Protein, have reduced the menhaden population’s productivity to a dangerously low 8 percent of its potential, according to a 2010 stock assessment. Most importantly, the addendum proposes that management measures be implemented to achieve target levels of either 20, 30 or 40 percent MSP, with the higher targets more in line with the standards set for other key forage fish.
The public now has a chance to give its support to the most conservative rebuilding options being considered. An opportunity like this, one that could have such far reaching effects for so many species, doesn’t come along often.
Two Ways to Take Action
1. Attend a hearing:
2. Send an email to Toni Kerns at [email protected]. You can use a sample letter available from NCMC or submit your own. Please include “Menhaden Draft Addendum V” in your subject line. The public comment period is open until 5 p.m. EST on November 2, 2011.