Menhaden Decisions at ASFMC Meeting February 5 Plus Review of MSC Certification

Ecological Reference Points Should Be Voted Upon MSC Sustainable Cert In Question

Tony Friedrich VP/Policy Director

We have been dealing with nothing but striped bass and bluefish for a while now. Menhaden are heating up again with two issues on separate fronts.

For years, we have been pushing for the ecosystem based management of menhaden. Fisheries science normally looks at a fish as a single species. A fisheries management plan is designed to allow for certain amount of harvest that ensures long term stability of each individual species.

Forage fish are different from sport species. We have long advocated that forage species, like menhaden, need to be managed for their role in the ecosystem, not as a single species. The management term for this strategy is Ecological Reference Points (ERP’s).

Several years ago, the managers at ASMFC took on the task of looking at managing menhaden under ERP’s. This is a first as far as we know and it has taken quite a bit of time.

The management problem is the sheer abundance of menhaden and the critical role they play in the food web. They are on the menu of everything from whales, to osprey, to striped bass.

Then there’s the fact that they filter the water. They turn the sun’s energy into protein when they feed on phytoplankton. It is a pretty incredible little fish to say the least.

On February 5th, ASMFC will meet at the Westin in Alexandria, Virginia to discuss menhaden management moving forward. Now would be a great time to send an email to your ASMFC Commissioners and ask that they vote “yes” on ERP’s. That isn’t all you should be asking though.

Because menhaden are so hard to count and because the marine food web is so complex, it is really difficult to say what should be left in the water. The bait fisheries have a minimal impact on the coast-wide population. However, the reduction fishery has a gigantic impact on the Chesapeake Bay.

While science can’t quantify the issue of localized depletion, we can tell you with absolute certainty that when an industrial purse seine fishery operates in the nation’s largest estuary and removes 400,000,000 individuals of a keystone forage species each and every year, it hurts.

When you send that email, you should mention NO INCREASE in harvest as well. As crazy as this sounds, what we have seen from the ERP information isn’t great. On the upside, ERP’s are a step in the right direction. On the downside, this is all very new. The team leading the study can’t figure how to quantify Omega’s industrial operation in the Bay. So, the ERP’s are based on coast-wide population studies. Does it really matter how many menhaden are in the water in South Carolina when 400,000,000 a year are caught in the largest nursery on the East Coast? Bottom line, we don’t have a lot of faith in the first round of results. Sadly, this might line up for Omega asking for an increase in harvest. Hence there is a need to tell your commissioners “NO INCREASE”. If you aren’t familiar with the term “Hoist With His Own Petard”, look it up. It is hard not to feel that way right now.

On to issue number 2!

As you know, the Secretary of Commerce upheld the non-compliance finding for Omega Protein for blowing through the Bay Cap in 2019. For those that don’t know, the Marine Stewardship Council just gave Omega a “sustainability” rating for their fishery. From what we can tell, anyone with enough money can obtain this certification. Seriously, we don’t know if it is the process or the money but if scientists can figure out why removing 400,000,000 fish from the nation’s largest estuary every year is bad, how can they declare it sustainable? But, we digress. For be it from us to force logic into the equation when precious mathematical models should be our guide (YUUUGE does of sarcasm there).

We got an email today about the recent certification. It appears that SAI Global is doing an audit because Omega knowingly and happily exceeded the Bay Cap.

Here’s the info:

SAI Global would like to announce that, in response to recent developments, we are commencing an expedited audit of the above fishery. The stakeholder notification of the commencement of audit activities is attached here and is also available on the MSC website at:

The first step in this audit includes a 30-day stakeholder comment period which runs from today (21 January 2020) until 17:00 UTC on 20 February 2020. Within this time, stakeholders are invited to, using the mechanism outlined in the attached announcement, make written comment, provide information or nominate other organizations that should be contacted with respect to the audit process. Please note that, following recent changes in MSC procedures, SAI Global is unable to accept any submissions not made using the correct stakeholder template

The correct template to be used when making submissions the ‘MSC Template for Stakeholder Input into Fishery Assessments’) is attached here and may also be found on the MSC website at:

We will be working on our own comments and encourage you to do so as well.

At the very least, please send those emails to your commissioners asking for ERP management with no increase in harvest.

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