BOSTON, MA – For the first time in history, there will be reductions in the harvest of Atlantic menhaden after a vote today by the Menhaden Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Menhaden, which serve as the primary forage base for most predatory fish, have declined to the lowest level ever recorded, sparking alarm in the recreational angling community which has long expressed concern over the impact of industrial menhaden harvest on sportfish stocks.
“This is a long-anticipated decision and it is a great relief for anglers to know that managers have finally begun the process of rebuilding this critical species,” said Charles A. Witek III, chairman of the Atlantic Fisheries Committee for Coastal Conservation Association. “The turning point was finally having science in hand that showed what many of us have been saying for a long time. We still have work to do to ensure that menhaden are properly managed to fulfill its role as a forage base, but we are finally out of the starting blocks.”
Anglers and conservationists have chafed for years under management standards that indicated the spawning stock of menhaden was perfectly healthy and the fishing mortality rate was fine or only “slightly” over the overfishing threshold. As menhaden began to disappear from parts of the coast, it became clear that something was wrong with the way menhaden were being evaluated. Ultimately, outside scientists recommended changing reference points to better reflect the status of the stock and in a landmark decision, the Board agreed. With today’s vote, the reference points change from the current 8 percent Maximum Spawning Potential (MSP), which means 8 percent of an unfished stock, to 15 percent MSP as the overfishing threshold. They then adopted a target, the point for which management measures are intended, of 30 percent MSP, which will require a 37 percent reduction in harvest when implemented.
“The most critical thing that happened today is that the debate over whether or not to manage menhaden at all, is over,” said Richen Brame, CCA Atlantic Fisheries director. “Clearly these fish do indeed need to be managed, and managed conservatively. The debate now becomes about how conservatively should they be managed, and that is a much better scenario for menhaden, for sportfish and for anglers. It took a very long time and a lot of work by many, many groups, but the ASMFC did the right thing today.”
During the public comment period leading up to this vote, the ASMFC received almost 92,000 comments, the overwhelming majority of which were in favor of reductions in menhaden harvest by the greatest amount available. With today’s decision, the focus will now turn to the next management action that will determine exactly how to implement those reductions.