Atlantic Fisheries Commission to Restrict Menhaden Fishing

December 22, 2012

Fishing of Atlantic menhaden will drop 20% in 2013.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted 13-3 last week in favor of regulating menhaden fish catch along the Atlantic Coast. Its Atlantic Menhaden Management Board approved a historical 20% decrease in allowable catch for the 2013 fishing season, and this will affect Omega Protein (Houston), which harvests the omega-3–rich menhaden on Virginia waters.

Based on catch and population assessments from 2009–2011, the ASMFC decided to restrict menhaden fishing-for the purpose of making fish oil and using the fish as bait-to 170,800 metric tons. The previous three-year average was 167,000 metric tons.

The ASMFC also voted in favor of adopting new biological reference points to control and monitor the menhaden population.

For years, critics have urged for menhaden catch limits because of the fish’s importance to its local ecosystem-it is a filter fish and frequent prey to other key species. But before this first-ever restriction is implemented, it must be ratified by all 15 ASMFC member states. Virginia is the only state that currently allows for commercial fishing of menhaden for fish oil and fishmeal, otherwise known as “reduction fishing.”

“Given the stock is experiencing overfishing and is most likely overfished based on the newly adopted reference points, it was incumbent upon the Board to reduce landings in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource and the fisheries that depend on it,” says Atlantic Menhaden Management board chair Louis Daniel of North Carolina.

Omega Protein CEO Bret D. Scholtes says that the new measures are premature and are underestimating the overall species population. The company expects to maintain a large portion of the allowable catch for reduction and bait in Virginia, as the ASMFC said it would allocate the quota to each state in a way that reflects its historical share of the fishing.

Assuming that the motion is ratified, it will stand at least until a 2014 stock reassessment by the National Marine Fisheries Service.