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Delaware among states that could see tweaks in menhaden bycatch allowance

Virginia Institute of Marine Science
The Atlantic Menhaden, an oily fish commonly used as bait.

As a part of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Delaware will play a role in developing harvest management strategies for the Atlantic Menhaden.

Considered common bait for crab traps, Atlantic Menhaden thrive as "some of the most important fish in the sea," according to John Clark, the fisheries administrator with the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.

"It's a small fishery, but it's an important fishery," Clark said. "In particular, we had a situation a couple years ago where our gill netters came to us and asked if we could change our net closure days so they could catch menhaden during the recreational spring striped bass season because fresh menhaden is the preferred bait for catching striped bass."

To keep the menhaden population stable, vessels have a bycatch allowance of 6,000 pounds of menhaden per day, but the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission might amend that allowance.

One option they are considering is permitting two people on the same vessel to harvest a total of 12,000 pounds of menhaden, at 6,000 pounds per person per day rather than per vessel. Another option is to cooperate while working in limited-entry fisheries.  

Vessels have a bycatch allowance of 6,000 pounds of menhaden per day.

Leipsic mayor Craig Pugh said he believes changing the bycatch allowance to 6,000 pounds of menhaden per person at a maximum of two authorized individuals on the same vessel is a reasonable option.

"It applies to us and it applies to the fishery and would make us more efficient in the work that we do," Pugh said.

Though the commission may opt to change the allowance, its Fishery Management Plan Coordinator Megan Ware said it does not intend to alter the bycatch baseline, but members will consider offering more flexibility in the baseline.

"The point of the addendum is really to add flexibility to the bycatch provisions, so we don't expect it to dramatically increase harvest or anything like that," Ware said. "We're just really trying to work towards how fishermen work through cooperative fishing out in the real world."

Ware said the commission is visiting several other states from Maine to Florida to get their input on changing the menhaden bycatch allowance.