Menhaden catch being unloaded. (Photo: NOAA)
Menhaden catch slashed to protect species
Friday, November 11, 2011, 16:20 (GMT + 9)
Overfishing has driven the population of menhaden down to just 8 per cent of its historical levels off the East Coast of the US. So this week the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) decided to slash the catch of this species by as much as 37 per cent of the amount caught in 2010.
Environmental groups called the Commission’s vote a first and are hopeful that it will help protect many other species that prey on menhaden, such as striped bass.
“Scientists have warned that having too few menhaden in the water could result in disastrous impacts on the fish and wildlife that eat them,’’ said Peter Baker, director of northeast fisheries at the Pew Environment Group. “Today’s decision marks a watershed moment.’’
Omega Protein Inc is one of the main opponents of the catch reduction, which will take effect in 2013. Officials said they may have to close a plant in Virginia and lay off more than 300 people.
The company catches 75-80 per cent of menhaden and turns it into fishmeal and fish oil at its Virginia plant, USA Today reports.
“What the commission did is akin to swatting a gnat with a sledgehammer,’’ said Ron Lukens, a senior fisheries biologist for Omega. “It’s absolutely a disappointment. We knew we were going to take a cut, but this is a little too much to swallow.’’
Commission officials said the decision would strongly and positively affect the fishing industry around New England.
“Our waters are in crisis, and this vote will help. We hope to see a turnaround within the next five years,’’ said Patrick Paquette, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Striped Bass Association.
The Pew Environment Group noted that, by weight, more menhaden are caught than any other fish on the eastern seaboard, and this has caused big changes in what many of their predators eat.
Pew officials noted that while in the 1950s nearly 80 per cent of the diet of striped bass was menhaden, that figure dropped to about 7 per cent in 2010.
“The vote taken was exactly what we wanted,’’ said John Crawford, the Pew Group’s science and policy manager for the northeast fisheries. “This means there will ultimately be more menhaden left in the water, and that’s good for the ecosystem.’’
- ASMFC calls for greater protection of menhaden
By Natalia Real
Photo Courtesy of FIS Member NOAA/NMFSborrar