menhaden vote: a win for the fish

Chalk one up for us; the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Management Commission voted Wednesday to decrease the menhaden harvest by nearly 40 percent. See the NY Times article here. Virginia and New Jersey were the two states that voted against the measure—Virginia isn’t much of a surprise as the Omega Protein Corporation, the company responsible for 80 percent of the commercial “reduction” harvest of menhaden, is located there and lobbied heavily against in opposition. New Jersey, I’m not really sure what their reasons were since the recreational fishing industry is huge there for much of the year. Some key quotes from the NY Times piece:
Jack Travelstead, a representative from Virginia, questioned whether the measure would really increase menhaden stocks, suggesting that environmental factors played more of a role.

“There’s an enormous amount of uncertainty,” he said.

Ben Landry, a spokesman for Omega Protein, said the company was disappointed and felt the commission was responding to pressure from environmentalists and recreational fishermen.

“One thing is certain,” Mr. Landry said. “The industry is going to have to face some significant harvest cuts that will lead to a lot of hard employment questions, and a lot of tough questions as to how they’re going conduct their operation.”

Several recreational fishermen at the meeting said they were deeply encouraged by the vote, which came after the commission received more than 90,000 public comments, mostly in favor of steep catch reductions.

“I think it’s great that so many states recognize how vital this fish is,” said Paul Eidman, a fishing guide based in Sandy Hook, N.J. “It’s just a start, but it’s an important one.”

Mr. Eidman, who founded an advocacy group called Menhaden Defenders, said that smaller schools of menhaden off the New Jersey coast had meant a drop in business for him in recent years.

“The general feeling in New Jersey is if we don’t have bunker the fishing’s terrible,” he said. “And in this economy, people just aren’t going to take a day off from work to fish unless they know the fishing’s going to be really good.”

But H. Bruce Franklin, who wrote “The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America,” said a better step would have been to get rid of the so-called reduction fishing industry — harvesting menhaden for the manufacture of meal and oil — altogether.

“There’s no rational reason for this industry to exist,” he said. “If the maximum measures were taken right now, it might still be a little bit too late. But we’re hoping it’s not.”

Unsurprisingly, Omega Protein bemoans the loss of jobs in their industry, nevermind that recreational fishing brings in billions of dollars to the overall economy, not just to feed the coffers of one company. This vote is just a start, as Paul Eidman said. For a dose of reality, the vote does nothing to establish methods of how the minimum reduction of 27 percent, let alone the target 40 percent, will be reached. There’s still a lot of work to do to ensure the resurgence of menhaden from overfishing and environmental factors, but if you caught this line from above, “Several recreational fishermen at the meeting said they were deeply encouraged by the vote, which came after the commission received more than 90,000 public comments, mostly in favor of steep catch reductions”—you’ll see that your voice does count. Individually we don’t have the cash or clout of lobbyists, and we don’t always have the ear of politicians, so it’s imperative to remember how small steps like this can make a difference in what’s important to us.

For more information check out the Menhaden Defenders site, the Pew Environmental Group, who spearheaded the campaign, and Save the Bunker. Get involved if you love fishing.


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