|RISAA Prefered Options Selected|
| A Victory For Menhaden
November 10, 2011
On Wednesday, November 9, the "Pogey Bus" traveled from RI to Boston taking a bunch of RISAA members to the ASMFC Menhaden Management Board's meeting in Boston.
Here is a report on what happened.
The ASMFC’s Atlantic Menhaden Board (Board) voted new management measures that should end overfishing and increase the coastal menhaden stock to new sustainable numbers.
For the past several years, fishermen and environmental groups have complained that the amount of menhaden taken by the reduction industry - measured in metric tons - needed to be restricted. But commercial interests, especially in Virginia, the home of Omega Protein which takes 80% of the entire coastal catch, resisted changes. In 2010 alone, Omega Protein harvested 160,000 metric tons (404 million pounds) which is reduced (ground up) for fish meal and oil used in pet food, livestock and aquaculture feed, paints and cosmetics.
Finally, the science caught up with the reports of fishermen and showed that overfishing WAS occurring on the coastwide stock of menhaden, the “most important fish in the sea.” The Menhaden Board charged their Menhaden Technical Committee (made up of marine biologists from participating states) to come up with a suite of possible management measures that would be put out to to the public on how much change should be made, and then how to implement any changes.
Over the past several months, public hearings were held along the Atlantic Coast., and the Board received a report on the hearings at the start of the meeting. (Many RISAA members were in attendance. The RISAA goal was a 15% threshold and 30% target.)
The public hearing comments and individual letters received totaled over 91,000.
The Menhaden Management Board is comprised of three commissioners from each of the 15 Atlantic coastal states, although each state gets one vote so the commissioners usually caucus to determine their state’s vote. Also on the Board is the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Potomac River Commission.
The first order of business was whether or not to change the management Threshold. At the current threshold, according to the latest stock analysis, the fishery was not overfished, but overfishing is occurring. Two options were presented:
1. Status Quo (no change)
2. Change threshold to 15% of Maximum Spawning Potential (MSP). This means if the mature population of menhaden falls below 15% it will be considered overfished. Of the public comments received, 91,141 were in favor of 15% and 35 said status quo.
The vote by the Board was taken and they agreed by unanimous vote to change the threshold to 15%.
Next was the decision on a new management Target
( how much of the mature fish must be left in the water).
The options were:
1. Status Quo (no change)
2. 20% of MSP (would require a 27% catch reduction over 2010 levels)
3. 30% of MSP (37% reduction over 2010)
4. 40% of MSP (45% reduction over 2010)
There was much discussion from various state board members. Finally, Lynn Fegley (Maryland) made a motion to change the target to 30% of MSP. This was seconded by Rep. Peake (Massachusetts), but quickly an amendment to that motion was then proposed by Jack Travelstead (Virginia, home of Omega Protein) to change the proposal to 20% of MSP, seconded by Peter Himchak (New Jersey). Much discussion followed on the amended motion and finally a vote was taken 5 in favor of amendment, 12 opposed. The motion for 20% failed.
Rhode Island voted in favor of the 20% motion along with VA. We were disappointed in our state's vote.
Once the amended motion failed, the original motion of 30% was put to a vote.
This final vote passed 14 - 3, with only Virginia, New Jersey and Potomac voting no.
Rhode Island now changed it’s vote to go with the majority this time.
So, the result was now a 15% Threshold and 30% Target, exactly what we hoped for!
This was definitely a win for menhaden.
The work is not yet done.
Now that we have new targets in place, the ASMFC must come up with ways to achieve them.
Rhode Island is the “poster child” of menhaden management with closed areas, restrictions on nets, observers and fly-overs, school counts, etc. Other states don’t do this, and the ASMFC will have to come up a new suite of measures to control catches.
Many possible proposals had been included in the coastal public hearings that had been held, and those results will now be used to help decide future regulations. We can expect more meetings and more public hearings during 2012 before the final management plan is in place.