Should regulators limit the catch of Atlantic menhaden?
The science isn’t conclusive
Deihl, a native of Reedville and fifth-generation menhaden fisherman, is director of fishing operations for Omega Protein.
Environmentalists and fishermen concur: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission regulators should use the best available science. Unfortunately, Chris Moore omits key scientific facts in his argument for “more aggressive steps” and a “robust” conservation plan for Atlantic menhaden.
He accuses the industry of questioning ASMFC science. Actually, the ASMFC itself raised concerns, noting flaws that “cast considerable doubt” on the most recent assessment’s accuracy.
Moore states that menhaden experienced overfishing for 32 of the past 54 years. But 30 of those years occurred more than 15 years ago. In the last nine years, overfishing occurred just once and only by 0.4 percent. Because menhaden live a maximum of 10 years, statistics from the 1970s and ’80s are less relevant than recent findings.
Noting correctly that “the number of young fish entering the population has remained low for nearly 20 years,” he does not account for other environmental factors. The ASMFC concluded in its 2010 assessment that population fluctuations “are almost entirely driven by non-fishery sources.”
The expression “the most important fish in the sea” was coined by a Rutgers English professor. There is no scientific evidence that any one species is most important. That is the author’s opinion, not scientific consensus.
Moore implies that the fishery has consolidated to a single facility in Virginia as a result of overharvesting. In fact, economic pressures such as fluctuations in the price of fishmeal and fish oil and land-use concerns, such as restrictions brought on by increased waterfront development, have been key drivers of industry consolidation since the 1980s.
The industry has not taken an unreasonably hard line, as Moore implies. Instead, we have suggested a cap based on three-year average landings, which would result in harvests about 7 percent lower than in 2011. This would protect both the menhaden stock and fishing communities.
Conservation will bring recovery
Moore is Hampton Roads senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Omega Protein’s Monty Deihl calls for sound science to guide menhaden conservation but then uses half-truths, outdated information and job-loss scare tactics to argue for the status quo.
For example, he cites Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission data to contend menhaden overfishing has occurred only twice since 1993. However, these figures are based on outdated standards that the commission has since changed. Using the new fishing rate standards, the 2010 assessment would have found that menhaden overfishing occurred in 52 of the previous 54 years. Further, the commission’s Menhaden Technical Committee says that if the new population standards it recommends are adopted, the population would be considered overfished.
Deihl argues a modest 7 percent harvest cutback from heightened 2011 levels “will allow the menhaden stock to continue its growth.” But the population is not growing — it’s at an all-time low and has reproduced poorly for the past 20 years.
Science and history demonstrate that when significant conservation steps are taken to help troubled fisheries, they recover to everyone’s benefit.
– When the Chesapeake Bay’s striped bass population was at historic lows two decades ago, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission imposed strict catch limits. Today, rockfish have rebounded to historic highs, generating nearly $300 million for Virginia in commercial and recreational fishing revenues.
– Five years ago, when the blue crab population was down 70 percent, Virginia and Maryland ordered catch restrictions. Today, blue crabs are recovering dramatically, providing more crabs and more economic value to Virginia.
Conserving menhaden will restore jobs, not destroy them, and benefit the marine ecosystem and the economy. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to reduce menhaden harvests 25 percent as part of a new comprehensive management plan and for the 2013 Virginia General Assembly to approve the plan.