Atlantic menhaden are not overfished in Delaware, but the state is joining several of its neighbors in seeking to improve how the fish is managed regionally.
Menhaden are often used as bait for catching striped bass in the First State. Currently, they’re managed by single-species reference points which set targets on the health of the stock: fish mortality and spawning potential, to determine if menhaden are overfished.
Fisheries Administrator John Clark of DNREC said stakeholders often use reference points based on biomass on the fish but more typically use mortality relative to the stock size.
"We didn’t break it out into how many of the menhaden were necessary for various other stocks of fish...and other predators like whales and dolphins," Clark said.
Some locally would like to see the fish managed by ecological reference points. This would more broadly consider menhaden sustainability and interactions with predators to determine if they are being overfished. These reference points account for leaving more menhaden in the ocean for predator species.
Delaware Center for the Inland Bays executive director Chris Bason is among those that back this approach.
"The center is encouraging them to continue considering that," Bason said. "They need a few more years to develop ecological reference points. In the meantime, we’re encouraging them to take a precautionary approach to the harvest."
Bason said that means fishermen need to make sure they’re not over-harvesting menhaden and other species are benefiting from a healthy menhaden population.
Also passionate about the menhaden fishery was Amy Roe of Newark. Roe said she wants to see ecological reference points implemented as well, as it considers the menhaden's interactions with other species.
"Menhaden is very important because it’s a forage fish," Roe said. "It sustains the entire food-web in the ocean, and a lot of commercial and recreational fisheries depend upon it as a source of food. Also whales and birds and porpoises rely on menhaden. So it’s important to have a healthy ocean and having a healthy ocean requires a healthy menhaden population."
Public comment on the menhaden management plan will be accepted through January 4. The plan is pending approval in late 2017.