Later this week the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) will meet to review public comments and adopt an updated coast-wide management plan for menhaden—an important, ecologically rich fish that has plummeted to record-low numbers in recent years. Some have argued that reducing the catch of menhaden will kill jobs and destroy the fishery, when in fact, quite the opposite is true.
Check out these five, often overlooked facts about how important restoring menhaden is to restoring our economy:
- Jobs in the marine fishing industry are based on publicly owned biological resources. A key function of government is to maintain these resources for maximum public benefit. The latest science tells us that we have fished above the rate that would maximize benefits (overfishing) for 52 of the last 55 years. The Atlantic menhaden population has declined to its lowest point on record.
- In 1876, there were 99 menhaden reduction factories up and down the east coast. During World War I there were 18 plants in Reedville, VA, alone. In the late 1990s, when the ASMFC first began debating how to address the decline in menhaden numbers, there were three plants left. The Ampro Fisheries plant in Reedville was closed in 1997 after being bought out by its rival, Zapata Protein (which soon became Omega Protein), reducing the number of plants in Reedville to one. The Beaufort Fisheries plant in North Carolina closed in 2005. There is now only one plant left on the Atlantic Coast.
- Failing to take action is not the best prescription for the industry or its workers. Inaction may avoid a handful of job losses in the short term, but at the expense of continued overfishing which will inevitably lead to economic stagnation and possible further declines. Conserving menhaden will restore jobs, not destroy them, and benefit the ecosystem and the economy.
and history demonstrate that strong conservation helps troubled fisheries:
- When Atlantic striped bass stocks fell to historic lows three decades ago, the states imposed strict catch limits under an ASMFC management plan. Stripers rebounded to historic highs and now generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fishing-related revenues and thousands of jobs coastwide.
- When the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population was down 70 percent five years ago, Virginia and Maryland prescribed science-based catch restrictions. Today, blue crabs are recovering dramatically, providing more crabs and more economic value.
- The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopted a management plan in 2001 with a wide range of objectives for stabilizing and enhancing the menhaden population for both economic prosperity in the fishery and the health of the marine ecosystem. It has spent a dozen years developing and applying the science and management tools for achieving these objectives. The actions now being considered are the result of an extended, methodical, transparent, and scientifically sound deliberative process.