The MSSA is Working to Provide A Unified Voice to Preserve and Protect the Rights, Traditions and the Future of Recreational Fishing
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 #24
ASMFC'S Challenge ... Can They Think Outside The Box?
On their website, the ASMFC acknowledges its responsibility to manage menhaden in such a manner as to be economically, culturally, and biologically sustainable. For as long as the author has been involved with menhaden, the emphasis has been on the biological factors to the near exclusion of the other elements. Obviously the failure to halt the shrinkage of the menhaden stock to historic lows doesn't speak favorably about the primary use of biological factors to maintain a sustainable fishery. The concentration on technical guidance is understandable since it suggests that the decision making process is science based, and thus relatively free of political bias. If anyone accepts that premise as fact, it is most likely because no action has yet been taken which has been harmful to those who make their living by harvesting menhaden. If the Menhaden Management Board intends to reverse the decline, and address predator rather than commercial needs, that will have to change.
Guidance on what measures it will take to meet revised plan objectives will be forthcoming from the technical people on the plan development team. I note that that there is a sociologist on the team. It is unusual for a science other than biology to be included. Is this a sign that the Board has begun to recognize that their charge is to manage the fishermen as well as the fish? Does it indicate that their decisions relating to menhaden sustainability will include consideration of how best to reduce harvest while minimizing the effects on the people who make their living directly or indirectly from menhaden? To do this means the commissioners will have to think outside the box in which they have been so comfortable.
The menhaden shortage is a coastwide issue. Because Omega Protein is located in Virginia, and because Virginia (unlike other states) allows unrestricted menhaden harvest, Virginia has had a disproportionate influence on how menhaden are managed. The result is a largely unregulated fishery in Virginia's Chesapeake Bay and coastal waters. It should be noted that not only is Virginia the site of the only remaining reduction menhaden operation (Reedville), but Virginia is also the big gun when it comes to bait harvest. Any way you look at it, when proportional coastwide harvest restrictions are imposed, Virginia stands to lose the most tonnage compared to other states. The immediate commercial reaction will be to emphasize the potential loss of jobs. But many more jobs would be lost in the coastwide bait sector if Virginia's restriction burden were to be reduced. The New England states' waters are already so deficient in forage fish that they are forced to fish outside their immediate areas in order to obtain bait for their markets.
From a purely economic perspective, minimizing the harvest restriction impact on the reduction industry would saddle the bait industry with a burden that they can't absorb. The bait industry services major seafood markets which keep American workers employed. The reduction industry does to a much lower extent, and many of their markets are external to the United States.
To suggest that this time around the change to the management of menhaden will be primarily science driven is naive. It's going to be anything but, and the commissioners will have to think outside the box in order to do their job effectively.
Previous Menhaden Articles:
Menhaden Muddle #33
Menhaden Muddle #32
Menhaden Muddle #31
Menhaden Muddle #30
Menhaden Muddle #29
Menhaden Muddle #27
Menhaden Muddle #26
Menhaden Muddle #25
Menhaden Muddle #24
Menhaden Muddle #23
Menhaden Muddle #16
Menhaden Muddle #13
Menhaden Muddle #12
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