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Menhaden Aren’t Overfished, Report Says

May 7, 2010

By Xanthe Waters and Jessica Porter
Capital News Service

Atlantic menhaden along the East Coast are not being overfished, but there are “signs of concern,” according to a report released this week by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

There were enough spawning menhaden in 2008 to produce an adequate amount of eggs for the population to replenish, the report said.

However, it said there has been a decline in the number of young fish in recent years. This may mean that despite high egg production, young menhaden have a lower chance of survival than in the past.

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“It’s really hard to tell what will happen for the next assessment. But I can tell you the picture wasn’t as rosy as it was during the last [assessment] in 2006. And whether that trend will continue is really anyone’s guess,” said Braddock Spear, menhaden management plan coordinator for the ASMFC.

“It depends on how the fishery behaves and how the environment affects population.”

Since the 1980s, the commission has conducted stock assessments every three years and benchmark assessments every six years to ensure the health of the fish.

The study – reviewed by an independent panel of scientists – stated:

“Based on the current reference points, the coastwide Atlantic menhaden stock is not overfished nor is it experiencing overfishing. The fishing mortality rate is close to the threshold or the maximum rate at which fishing can occur and still allow the population to replace itself. Population fecundity is slightly below the target, meaning that the spawning stock in 2008 appears to be adequate to produce the target number of eggs. However, the number of young fish in the population has been consistently low in recent decades, indicating that high egg production may not be translating into high survival of young menhaden.”

The commission is in the process of determining the best way to handle the new data.

“We will have a better idea over the next six months to a year while the board is having discussions about any need for change in [menhaden] management,” Spear said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group, said the report contains evidence that more must be done to protect menhaden.

“This report changes the landscape for the management of this ecologically critical species,” said Bill Goldsborough, director of the foundation’s fisheries programs and a member of the ASMFC.

According to Goldsborough’s reading of the report, “it has now been confirmed that menhaden have been systematically overfished for the last 50 years and are now at historic low numbers.”

In a press release, the foundation said the fishing rate for menhaden in 2008 was “just below the point that would have been judged ‘overfishing,’ and the spawning was above the point that would have designated the population as ‘overfished.’ However, the analyses revealed that the fishing rate has routinely exceeded the overfishing level during its history and has only hit the target level once in 54 years.”

“Vested interests will probably try to ‘cherry pick’ the science and say there is no problem with the menhaden population, but that is dead wrong,” Goldsborough said. “Atlantic menhaden are at an all-time low, independent experts have recommended increasing protections for them, and the ASMFC is beginning the process to take action to do that.”


On the Web

To view the menhaden study, go to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s website (www.asmfc.org), and click on “Breaking News.”

For the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s take on the report, visit www.cbf.org.


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