A Turning Point for Menhaden, Part Four

 
Video by Chris Moore/CBF Staff.

Just a few weeks ago, in an historic vote, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) decided it was time to set new standards for how it manages menhaden, an essential fish to the entire coastal ecosystem. But due to overfishing in 32 of the past 54 years, menhaden’s population had fallen to a mere 8 percent of what it once was–its lowest point on record!

After thousands of letters and e-mails (including 1,036 from CBF advocates) as well as comments at public ASMFC hearings, it became clear just how important this fish is not only to our waters, but to the human community it supports.

Bill Goldsborough, CBF’s Director of Fisheries, fought for years for the protection of this fish, which up until now had hardly been managed at all. His persistence was instrumental in bringing about this landmark decision to establish a healthy population of menhaden for all of us. Check out the video above for Goldsborough's reactions to the vote just moments after it happened.

—Emmy Nicklin

Read the full menhaden story. View parts One, Two, and Three of this menhaden blog series.   


Photo of the Week: The Most Important Fish in the Sea

MenhadenPhoto by Justin Benttinen/www.justinbenttinen.com.

Here, Justin Benttinen captures tiny menhaden in an impressionistic sea. In a matter of days, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) will meet to discuss the fate of menhaden (AKA the most important fish in the sea). At the end of that meeting, it will adopt an addendum to its menhaden management plan, which will determine new overfishing thresholds and target fishing rates.

Now, more than ever, we need your help. In 32 of the past 54 years, we have overfished menhaden, and its population now stands at its lowest point on record—a mere 8 percent of what it once was!

But, we have an historic opportunity to rebuild the population of this important fish, which represents a critical link in the marine food web of the entire Atlantic coast, especially the Chesapeake Bay. Please write ASMFC today and urge the commission to set new targets that will allow the menhaden population to increase to a point where it can support a fishery and fulfill its vital ecological role. Please submit your letters by 5 p.m. November 2, 2011, in order for them to be considered.

If we don't speak up now, this fish, so critical to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the human community that it supports, could be lost forever.

—Emmy Nicklin

 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send them to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org,along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!


A Turning Point for Menhaden, Part Three

JP at hearing2CBF's John Page Williams addressing the crowd at Tuesday night's public hearing on menhaden. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

“You all are talking about cutting my pay!” Those were the impassioned words from third-generation bait fisherman Capt. Larry Powley at Tuesday night’s public hearing on menhaden in Annapolis, Maryland. Powley is concerned—as many watermen are—that possible changes to the way menhaden are managed will destroy his livelihood and way of life on Hooper’s Island.

In August, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) announced its decision to consider changes to its management plan for the Atlantic menhaden population, which has reached its lowest point on record—a mere 8 percent of what it once was. A keystone species for the entire marine ecosystem, menhaden are often called, “the most important fish in the sea.” As CBF’s Senior Naturalist John Page Williams says, “We are simply not leaving enough menhaden in our coastal waters to sustain the fish and birds that have depended on them for thousands of years.” Not to mention the thousands of water-related jobs up and down the Atlantic coast which depend on the survival of this fish now and for many years to come.

Tuesday night’s meeting was just one of 13 public hearings taking place throughout the next few weeks to solicit comments from communities along the East Coast about what to do about menhaden. The mild October evening had brought together a packed and mixed crowd of suits and sandals alike, eager to voice their thoughts on menhaden overfishing thresholds and fishing rate targets

Though Powley’s concerns are valid, Williams emphasizes that there’s no interest in running anyone out of business, but rather ensuring the sustainability of this incredibly important species, both for us and for the coastal food webs. “What we’re talking about tonight is how to keep the stock from crashing. Today, the coastal stock of Atlantic menhaden is at its lowest level on record . . . A stock collapse is a real possibility. We must allow the Atlantic menhaden stock to rebound, just as we have done over the past 25 years for rockfish and crabs.”

In the end, the menhaden population needs to increase to a point where it can support a fishery and fulfill its vital ecological role. “Must we crash a valuable natural resource before we get religion and respond effectively? Or will we heed the warning signs and back off before a crash?” Williams questions. “The second course is much more responsible and less expensive in the long run, for both the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and us, the human community that it supports.” 

—Emmy Nicklin

 

Send your comments to ASMFC, tkerns@asmfc.org, urging the adoption of a new overfishing Threshold Option 2, a level corresponding to 15% of menhaden’s maximum spawning potential (MSP) as well as the adoption of Target Option 3, a fishing level corresponding to 30% MSP, by 5 p.m. November 2, 2011.

View Parts One and Two of this menhaden series. Download Menhaden Testimony 101111 to read John Page Williams' menhaden comments in full. The possible options for targets and thresholds are outlined in Draft Addendum V to the menhaden management plan. To learn more about this important fish and what you can do to save it, please visit our webpage.

 



Ask a Scientist: A Turning Point for Menhaden, Part Two

MenhadenByJustin Photo by Justin Benttinen/http://www.justinbenttinen.com. 

Your Turn to Save the Menhaden

A few weeks ago we told you of an historic opportunity to rebuild the menhaden population, commonly referred to as “the most important fish in the sea.” Now, in a continuation of that blog, we delve deeper into why this fish matters, and what we can do now to help save it. Who better to ask than our own Bill Goldsborough, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Fisheries Director.


Why should people care about this fish?
People should care about menhaden because the health of the marine food web depends on this fish. Many of the Bay species that we value very highly—striped bass, osprey, bald eagles—depend on this fish. Furthermore, the disease problem facing striped bass has been linked to the lack of nutritionally rich menhaden available for their food.

What’s happening to menhaden right now?
The latest data paint a bleak picture for menhaden. A new updated scientific assessment of the menhaden population has determined that overfishing has occurred in 32 out of the last 54 years, presenting an historic pattern of overfishing. The ASMFC convened the scientists that did these analyses from among the state and federal agencies it represents, and they are all acknowledged menhaden population experts. In addition, they convened a panel of independent fishery scientists unaffiliated with the commission to review the assessment and make recommendations. This independent panel said that we’re down to 8 percent of what the menhaden population once was and that that’s too low. They said we need to have more conservative reference points—targets for the population level and rate of fishing as well as thresholds for delineating when overfishing is occurring and when the population is overfished—to better protect and build up the stock.

Where does the menhaden catch go?
Right now roughly 80 percent of the catch, or about 150,000 tons of menhaden per year, are caught in the “reduction” fishery, cooked, ground up, and processed into oil and meal to be used for farmed fish and livestock feed, pet food, paints, cosmetics, and dietary supplements. The remaining 20 percent is used for bait in commercial and recreational fisheries.

There’s a certain irony to taking fish from the wild and feeding them to farmed fish. Can you expand on that thought?
Menhaden are a fundamental food for so many different kinds of fish and marine mammals and seabirds . . . to be going out in the wild and catching this important forage fish just to process it and feed it to farmed-raised fish, thereby letting the natural system suffer . . . it’s an outrage really. 

Why are there some people out there who still believe that menhaden are not being overfished?
It’s important in how you word it . . . to say they are being overfished is correct; to say they are overfished is incorrect. These are the most recent scientific findings, but these findings are determined relative to standards that fishery managers adopted years ago. With the tighter standards that scientists are now recommending, the population would most assuredly be classified as overfished and being overfished. After all, there’s no dispute that the population is at its lowest point on record.

Why now? Why is it important now for people to take action?
The fact that this critically important fish’s population is at its lowest point on record is a startling wake-up call. As a result, ASMFC is considering changing its management plan for Atlantic menhaden by tightening the standards used to manage menhaden fishing. ASMFC is currently seeking public comment on possible new standards or “reference points” that outline desirable population levels and allowable fishing rates. Once reference points are established, ASMFC will develop fishing rules, such as catch limits, fishing seasons, and area closures, designed to achieve population targets and avoid overfishing.

What should people say in their public comments to ASMFC?
CBF is recommending option F15% as the overfishing threshold, which ensures that 15 percent of the original, unfished menhaden population is left intact (instead of the 8 percent it is currently). CBF is also recommending a fishing rate target of at least F30%, as an appropriate interim target.

I urge people to tell ASMFC that menhaden are very important in their ecological role, and it’s simply outrageous how low we’ve allowed the population to get. The rapid decline of menhaden creates huge problems for the entire ecosystem. People should tell ASMFC they want new reference points for menhaden that are sufficiently conservative and will turn around this decline and increase the population. Furthermore, the population should be allowed to increase to a point where menhaden can support a fishery and fulfill their vital ecological role.

—Emmy Nicklin

 

View Part One of this series here. The possible options for targets and thresholds are outlined in Draft Addendum V to the menhaden management plan. To learn more about this important fish and what you can do to save it, please visit our webpage. Send your comments to ASMFC, tkerns@asmfc.org, urging the adoption of a new overfishing Threshold Option 2, a level corresponding to 15% of menhaden’s maximum spawning potential (MSP) as well as the adoption of Target Option 3, a fishing level corresponding to 30% MSP, by 5 p.m. November 2, 2011.

 


Ask a Scientist: a Turning Point for Menhaden? Part One

Menhaden photo
Photo courtesy of Bill Goldsborough/CBF Staff

They’ve been called “the most important fish in the sea.” Small, silvery, and packed with nutritional value, menhaden are filter feeders that consume plankton and in turn are food for striped bass and other important fish, as well as marine mammals and sea birds. They are in effect a critical link in the marine food web.  

But in 32 of the past 54 years, menhaden have been overfished, and they are now at their lowest level on record. Most of the harvest today is taken by Omega Protein, Inc.—a corporation based in Houston, Texas, which capitalizes off of menhaden’s nutritional value by running a fish reduction plant out of small-town Reedville, Virginia. Omega Protein’s catch makes up 80 percent of the East Coast catch, resulting in more than 150,000 tons per year of menhaden, which are then cooked, ground up, processed into oil and meal to be used for fish and livestock feed, pet food, paints, cosmetics, and dietary supplements.

“This is enough to make Reedville, Virginia, annually one of the top three ports in the whole country, including Alaska, in terms of tonnage landed,” says Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Fisheries Director Bill Goldsborough. “And most of these ecologically critical fish are removed from Chesapeake Bay waters and the ocean waters just outside the Bay’s mouth.”

But just last week, in an historic first step to protect the ever-diminishing menhaden population, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted overwhelmingly to adopt a draft addendum to the Fishery Management Plan, which would allow public comment over the next two months on new reference points for managing the fishery. Specifically, the board is considering a full range of targets for rebuilding the menhaden population, potentially to as much as 40 percent of its former size (it is now at about eight percent).

“This is a landmark thing for menhaden. This is what we’ve been fighting for for years,” Goldsborough says.

It was a long, uphill battle getting to this groundbreaking vote. The current menhaden management plan was adopted in 2001 with high-minded language about rebuilding the menhaden population, but since then the population has only trended downward. Three years ago, the Menhaden Board first passed a motion to develop new targets. Then in May 2010, the board was briefed on a new menhaden stock assessment, which scientifically evaluated the fish’s population and found that, indeed, overfishing occurred in 32 of the last 54 years, presenting an overwhelming pattern of overfishing. Furthermore, the menhaden was at its lowest level on record—only eight percent of its original size! With a panel of independent scientists warning that the population level was too low to be sustainable, setting new reference points that provide better protection for menhaden was recommended. The board responded by voting unanimously at its May 2010 meeting and again at its August 2010 meeting to adopt new reference points, which include targets for the menhaden population level and rate of fishing as well as thresholds for delineating when overfishing was occurring and when the population was overfished. It has taken the process until now, a year later, for proposals for new targets and thresholds to be presented for the board’s consideration.    

Now, after the Menhaden Board voted last week 15 to 1 to 1 in favor of a draft plan addendum with a range of possible targets for the fish’s population level (20 percent, 30 percent, and 40 percent), we have an historic opportunity to rebuild the population of this critical fish. Over the next two months the public will have the chance to let the ASMFC know how it feels about these options and the way forward for menhaden. At its November meeting, the Menhaden Board will adopt the final addendum and begin working on management measures (fishing quotas, size limits, seasons, etc.) needed to achieve the new targets.

—Bill Goldsborough and Emmy Nicklin

View Part Two of this menhaden series here.

More information on the public comment process, including meeting dates and locations will be posted to: http://www.asmfc.org/. Click on "Public Input."

Read the ASMFC "Draft Addendum V to Amendment 1 to the Atlantic Menhaden Fishery Management Plan for Public Comment."

Send your comments to tkerns@asmfc.org by 5 p.m. on November 2, 2011.

 

Where the Menhaden Catch Is Coming From

MenhadenMap_en (2)
Though only representing the menhaden catch for the year 2005, this pattern is very typical of the catch year after year, with most of it coming from Chesapeake waters and ocean waters nearby.