Little change to menhaden management; Delaware environmentalists disappointed
A regional fisheries board moved forward Monday with how to manage a tiny baitfish found along the East Coast, but the comission barely changed the way it would manage the fish — at least for now.
The Atlantic Menhaden Management Board — a section of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission — voted to maintain the status quo for managing menhaden as a single species, while scientists take the next two years to draft a benchmark that measures the fish’s health and abundance alongside the health of the ecosystem.
Chris Klarich, a campaign manager for Delaware Nature Society, says he is disappointed. He supported taking immediate action to consider how menhaden affect the whole ecosystem rather than waiting two years.
“By not taking an ecosystem-based approach, we’re disappointed because it’s more than just menhaden we’re trying to manage,” Klarich said. “We’re trying to protect the marine ecosystem all around.”
Other environmental groups and organizations — including Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and Delaware Surf Fishing — also backed an immediate, scientific approach to managing menhaden. Environmental groups reported strong support for menhaden to be managed by taking into account their effect on the ecosystem.
Regarding the amendment to the management plan that was passed Monday, Todd Pride, a lead coach with the Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers and Outdoors Program, said he worries about the two-year time period for drafting the population measurement benchmark.
“The concern a lot of people have including myself — a lot can happen over the next couple of years with any species — particularly with a forage baitfish like menhaden,” Pride said.
Rich King from Delaware Surf Fishing said he is also curious about how that will affect Delaware in two years.
"Delaware has such a small catch limit for bunker that we’re really not a large stem in the population. It doesn’t matter how many we catch...we’re not alloted that much," King said.
But two years should have little effect on the population, said Chris Bason, the director for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, who also supported a management plan with a more scientific approach.
“Two years of business as usual for a species that is not overfished and not being overfished is not the worst case scenario for management.”
Some people, in contrast, are happy with the decision. Omega Protein Corporation's Vice President of Operations Monty Deihl, said he believes with maintaining the status quo and setting population quotas tomorrow, there still would be no risk for overfishing menhaden.
“Per the scientists at the commission who spoke today — they have no concerns with the health of the stock based on using the current reference points,” Deihl said. “There was no hesitation about their concern that it will remain healthy through these next couple of years until the ecological reference points are developed — so that’s good news.”
Omega Protein harvests menhaden in Virginia and extracts their oil to use it in aquaculture and livestock feed. They also use menhaden fish meal in aquaculture feed and solubles in organic fertilizer.
The board will vote tomorrow on how many fish can be caught in each state in the next year. Delaware typically has a small catch quota compared to other states.
Updated at 4 p.m. Tuesday, November 14.