New ASMFC panel to look into "ecological" management of menhaden

Commission also prioritizes investigating at-sea bycatch for river herring and shad recovery

Last week, at their 3-day summer meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) took important steps toward improving management of menhaden, river herring and American shad -- species that are particularly important as prey for striped bass and numerous other predators.

In a public statement at the start of the August 20th meeting, NCMC president Ken Hinman reminded the ASMFC Atlantic Menhaden Management Board that we are now halfway through the five-year cap on menhaden harvest in Chesapeake Bay, that ASMFC-requested research is underway looking into the status of menhaden as a forage fish, and that a new stock assessment will be performed in 2009. After a number of Commissioners shared their concern that the move to an ecosystem-based approach to managing the menhaden fishery had "lost momentum," the Board accepted NCMC's recommendation to appoint a Working Group to develop ecological reference points -- e.g., target population size, age structure, and set-aside for predators -- by the completion of next year's stock assessment.

The following day during the meeting of the ASMFC Shad and River Herring Management Board, a draft river herring amendment was approved for public review that included strong options for regulating bycatch in other fisheries, both in state and federal waters, with emphasis placed on bycatch limits, mandatory reporting, and monitoring programs that allow for reliable estimation. At-sea bycatch is a prime suspect in the decline of both alewives and blueback herring. Landings of these species have fallen by 90% over the last twenty years, coinciding with a rise in mid-water trawling for sea herring and Atlantic mackerel. Similar options to address bycatch were chosen for an American shad amendment, which is being developed in response to a 2007 stock assessment that concluded the stocks are at "all-time lows." The shad amendment is scheduled to be released for public review in November.