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Menhaden Muddle Series

By Charlie Hutchinson

The Menhaden Muddle Series is a collection of writings by Charlie Hutchinson, member of the Dorchester County chapter of the MSSA. Charlie began writing a series of articles designed to gain attention and put an end to the devastation of the atlantic menhaden by the reduction fishery. Charlie has published many of these articles and several more in local and state papers. Charlie is MSSA's lead on the menhaden issue and the menhaden muddle series explains the MSSA's position as well as what needs to be done to restore and sustain a healthy menhaden fishery.

Menhaden Muddle #17

There has been a considerable gap in time between Muddle #16 and #17. One of the reasons for the lack of commentary is the lack of any perceived action with respect to changes in menhaden regulation. However there are things occurring that have a bearing on what may or may not transpire at the next Menhaden Management Board meeting scheduled sometime in March.

First is a change in leadership on the Board. Mr. Lapoint (from Maine) is no longer the chairperson. Under his chairmanship the attitude of the Commissioners changed from apparent indifference to one of concern and the acceptance of the need for new management methods. Perhaps this was related to some degree to the situation in New England where abundance,or more properly lack thereof, of forage fish is having a significant impact on fishing both commercial and recreational. His replacement Mr. Daniels hails from North Carolina and that area has traditionally been more pro industry than pro conservation. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Board dynamics in March.

Second is the legislative activity in the state of Virginia. Five bills have been introduced relating to menhaden. Some are geared to transferring responsibility for managing menhaden from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources commission. Others place limits and restrictions on the harvest in Virginia waters. Most seem to feel that Omega’s political influence needs to be blunted both in terms of more professional management and in terms of conservation.

Third, the Technical Committee has met prior to the March meeting where it is generally expected that they will announce that the revised assessment results are such that relative to the existing standards for menhaden abundance, the stock is being overfished. In addition they will be responding to the Boards requirement for them to provide new reference points for varying actions to rebuilding abundance by restricting harvest. Specifically the committee was directed to evaluate requirements to increase the age 3+ stock component to15%,25% and 40% of an unfished stock. At the January meeting the two scientists hired by Omega and their legal representative were quite active. While they were there as guests, since the meetings are open to the public, their behavior reportedly was much as though they were committee members. It is apparent that their objectives were to narrow the area of consideration so that the most stringent measure (40%) could be eliminated. Further there seem to be other moves related to delaying any regulatory action. This is not surprising as Omega has a lot at stake if new regulations result in harvest restrictions that will have a negative effect on their business. We believe the full range of options should be presented for Board action, particularly in view of published literature recommending much higher levels of breeding stock being necessary for forage species.

Finally, something else is beginning to surface that should have a direct bearing on decisions made about forage abundance. For some time now the New England area has reported a lack of forage fish, menhaden being only one of them, This past year the most prevalent complaint was the poor catch of striped bass, with comments to the effect that this past year was the worst in recent memory. A survey conducted by Stripers Forever verified the general feeling that things were going downhill rapidly. During 2009 local research in the Chesapeake Bay area revealed unusually large numbers of large migratory stripers in the Bay. Additionally these large fish were here unusually early. Their capacity to consume menhaden is immense. The same pattern continued thru 2010. What is significant in late 2010 and early 2011 is the emergence of much smaller migratory females joining the large stripers. What is of concern is the ratio of females to males is 4-5 times larger than historical values and the ratio is climbing with time. The most logical reason for this observed phenomenon is the lack of forage. This does not bode well for striper abundance, and suggests that the Mid Atlantic region is going in the same direction as New England

This situation needs immediate attention by fishery managers and their scientific advisors .The forage base has collapsed to some degree, not only for menhaden but also anchovies. What follows may be another crash of stripers in the Chesapeake which could affect the entire East Coast.

It is time for action by the ASMFC. Decide whether we want fish in the water or meal from the factory.

Previous Menhaden Articles:

Menhaden Muddle #33

Menhaden Muddle #32

Menhaden Muddle #31

Menhaden Muddle #30

Menhaden Muddle #29

Menhaden Muddle #28

Menhaden ALERT

End Overfishing of Menhaden

Menhaden Muddle #27

Menhaden Muddle #26

Menhaden Muddle #25

Menhaden Muddle #24
ASMFC'S Challenge

Menhaden Muddle #23
ASMFC'S Dilemma

Menhaden Muddle #22

Menhaden Muddle #21

Menhaden Muddle #20

Menhaden Muddle #19

Menhaden Muddle #18

Menhaden Muddle #17

Menhaden Muddle #16
What would Izaak do?

Menhaden Muddle #15

Menhaden Muddle #14

Menhaden Muddle #13
Menhaden Unmuddled?

Menhaden Muddle #12
What's next for Menhaden Management?

Menhaden Muddle #11

Menhaden Muddle #10

Menhaden Muddle #9

Menhaden Muddle #8

Menhaden Muddle #7

Menhaden Muddle #6

Menhaden Muddle #5

Menhaden Muddle #4

Menhaden Muddle #3

Menhaden Muddle #2

Menhaden Muddle #1

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