since 2009

Season starting soon, and menhaden help needed

photo from Discover magazine (http://discovermagazine.com/2001/sep/featfish)

We can all agree it’s been a long, cold winter. And though I could listen to Low’s “Last Snowstorm of the Year” over and over again, I’ve also been fiending for well over a month to get a line in the water; like seriously tying and retying leaders and sorting hooks and lures. Striped bass season starts this week! At least below the GW Bridge. The water temperatures still aren’t optimal yet, but I’m planning on hitting Jamaica Bay as soon as I can with a series of pencil poppers, Daiwa minnows, and 1/2oz. bucktails, trailers TBD. I recently moved out of Williamsburg and I haven’t updated since I still don’t have Internet at my new apartment; I need to make sure I can afford all the other necessary utilities since living at my last apartment completely skewed my idea of what a normal electricity bill looks like—our first bill was for over $2700 (did not pay that one) and averaged nearly $300/month. I’m living the total bachelor life, but this time it will look much different than when I was 24 going to graduate school in Berkeley, California. Lots of crap still in cardboard boxes, but at least all my rods and reels are taken care of, hanging neatly from the ceiling in Fort Greene, and my gear and car are primed and ready. Or maybe I’ll go up the Hudson a bit….

That being said, there’s been a lot going on around us lately, both locally and in the marine waters. First off, for us Brooklyn people, especially those who live in Greenpoint, is the development happening near Green Street pier up towards Newtown Creek. We’ve all seen the artist renderings rendering Greenpoint’s waterfront into Long Island City’s contemporary, but what we don’t always hear about is what’s going on with that land they’re planning on digging up. There was a very good article on the Greenpointers blog about exactly this, detailing the pollution under ground that’s seeping from the Nuhart Plastics building, and this is some nasty and not altogether hopeful news, but it’s something we should know about if the city’s planning to dig around and develop in our neighborhood.

From the Greenpointer blog: Note: If you live near the end of Clay/Commercial Street and are concerned about vapor intrusion speak with Jane O’Connell at the DEC (718) 482-4973. She is overseeing Nuhart’s remediation efforts and can help with air sampling questions. 

There’s also been a lot of news lately about menhaden, the fish most of the bigger fish we like to catch depend upon, and that same fish companies like Omega Protein like to scoop up by the millions and grind into pellets and fertilizer and pet food. I’ve talked about the importance of menhaden AKA bunker before in previous posts, back when the ASMFC was forced to confront the issue a couple years ago, but now they may be in trouble again. A new study, and that term is used at this point a little dubiously, found that bunker was “neither being overfished nor experiencing overfishing,” in Virginia waters. Next month, the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board will meet in Virginia, home of Omega Protein’s rendering plant, to decide if the new study is cause enough to lift the 20% reduction in the commercial bunker fishery, which happened in 2013. One can pretty easily see why this is important for the fishery in Virginia and for us anglers. Virginia/Omega takes nearly 85 percent of the total menhaden quota for the entire coast, so it’s obvious it’s in their favor when,

“The Menhaden Fisheries Coalition is touting recent media reports of multiple sightings by fishermen of vast schools of menhaden from Florida to the Gulf of Maine.

“They have been spotted coast-wide in numbers and in places that are far beyond the mid-Atlantic-based menhaden fishery,” the group said Wednesday. “This is consistent with what fishermen have been saying for years.”

—From an article in The Daily Press

Of course, evidence gathered from speculation and hearsay tells just the story the industry wants to hear with regards to opening up the fishery for exploitation again. There hasn’t been any evidence of more bunker in recent years, and this same study bases its “increase” on a higher-than-expected influx of heavier adult size bunker, the 10-inch kind we had roaming around Newtown Creek and the Harlem River last fall. The resulting higher-than-expected biomass is in no way indicative of the total health and sustainability of the species. From that same Daily Press article,

“But Ken Hinman, president of the Waterford, Va.-based advocacy group Wild Oceans, responded that the latest review only addresses the stock’s ability to sustain commercial fisheries and avoid depletion, not its role or capacity as an important forage fish for predator species from rockfish to humpback whales.

“‘Frankly,’ Hinman said, ‘recent headlines proclaiming that menhaden are ‘not overfished’ — given continued low abundance and the broader goal of providing adequate forage for the ecosystem — is like bragging that your bank account is not overdrawn, even though you still don’t have much money and you haven’t even added up your bills yet.'”

Another article that is a must-read is by John McMurray. From his post:

[The study] pretty much confirms everything I’ve just said. Lots of menhaden around, and predators and people are benefiting. But then seems to make the case that this is a reason to increase harvest. Uhm… WHAT?!

A new Atlantic menhaden stock assessment was completed in 2014 and released earlier this year. That assessment does indeed indicate an increase among fish in the oldest age classes, with more large adults than in previous estimates. Certainly not surprising, as it pretty much jives with what we’re all seeing in the water, at least in my neck of the woods. But the assessment also confirms that abundance of menhaden – the total numbers of fish – remains near historic lows, and that “recruitment” (the number of fish surviving past 1 year) isn’t great, which is bad news for the Chesapeake Bay. In fact the total numbers of menhaden actually declined from an estimated 35 billion fish in 2010, when they did the last benchmark assessment, to 13 billion in 2013, the last year we have data for.”

I received an email from Jamie Pollack at Pew asking the BKUAA to send letter and/or emails to ASMFC commissioners and Governor Cuomo regarding the importance of regulating the menhaden fishery and industry. I’ll put up a form letter you can (should) send and all the addresses in a separate post this week. We (anglers) were able to make some significant changes on this issue in the past, and more recently with striped bass regulations for 2015, and we can do it again. The label “the most important fish in the sea” isn’t just some bullshit tagline—we can’t let a company and industry that doesn’t give two shits about a marine resource except that which allows it to take all it can determine the future of countless other fisheries.

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