Wildlife & Wild Places

New Catch Limit for Menhaden Leaves Millions of Fish in the Sea

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

In December 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to establish the first ever coast-wide catch limit for the Atlantic Menhaden fishery, after urging from fishermen, conservationists, and many of you to protect Menhaden1.  Menhaden are one of the sea’s most important fish because they provide food for many larger ocean species.  For decades prior to this, fishermen were allowed to catch unlimited amounts of Menhaden, and because of this the Menhaden population declined by around 90%.

The Menhaden fishery is the largest on the U.S.  East Coast. The fishery primarily catches Menhaden to grind them up for use in fish-oil dietary supplements, fertilizers, and animal feed.  Commercial fishermen also use menhaden for bait.

The Menhaden catch limit established by the Commission reduced catches by 25%, to help stop overfishing on this species (catching them faster than they can reproduce). Each East Coast state received a share of the catch limit.

menhaden catch  photo credit: NOAA
menhaden catch
photo credit: NOAA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, a year later, the catch numbers for Menhaden are in and it’s good news. The 2013 catches remained just under the coast-wide catch limit in its first year of implementation2! This means that around 300 million more Menhaden were left in the sea to feed fish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish, as well as seabirds and marine mammals. This helps ensure the maintenance of ocean food-webs.  And in turn it helps support commercial and recreational fishing and also eco-tourism, like whale-watching.

All 15 Atlantic Coast states are enforcing the new Menhaden catch limits, though a few states did go over their share of the catch limit – Florida, New York, and Rhode Island. The problem was these states underestimated the amount of Menhaden they catch in their bait fisheries and the amount of the catch share they needed when it was divided among the states. [Previously there was poor reporting of Menhaden catches.] Luckily, the flexibility of the new management measures allowed states with uncaught catch shares to transfer them to the states that exceeded their limits, so they could remain in compliance with the rules.

In 2014, scientists will re-examine the status of the Atlantic Menhaden population. This will tell us if we have reduced fishing levels on Menhaden enough and if the population is rebounding. The results of the assessment will help inform managers on whether adjustments are needed to the coast-wide catch limit.  Scientists are also working on developing abundance and fishing targets for Menhaden that take into account the amount of Menhaden that need to be left in the ocean to feed their predators.

Protecting Menhaden and other important small fish is critically important to the overall health of our ocean ecosystems. Please join us in thanking the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for protecting Menhaden by clicking here.

To learn more about the sea’s little fish, please visit The Safina Center’s forage fish page and the Herring Alliance website.

Notes:

1.) The Little Fish That Could—Maybe It Will

2.) 2014 Review of the Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden

Carl Safina is author of seven books, including Song for the Blue Ocean, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Eye of the Albatross, Voyage of the Turtle, and The View From Lazy Point. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, where he also co-chairs the University's Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. A winner of the 2012 Orion Award and a MacArthur Prize, among others, his work has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, National Geographic, CNN.com and The Huffington Post, and he hosts “Saving the Ocean” on PBS. The paperback version of Safina's seventh book, "Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel," is available in stores July 12, 2016.

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