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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 #29


Assuming the Menhaden Management Board decides to change its management plan to reach the goal for increased abundance, there will result a significant reduction in the harvest of menhaden. Since menhaden are not directly consumed by the public, the burden of reduced catch falls on commercial fisheries. These fisheries can be defined as a bait industry and a reduction industry. The bait industry is scattered along the entire Eastern seaboard. It is just what it says, fish are harvested to be used to catch other animals such as crabs and lobsters .The reduction industry harvests fish to process into oils such as Omega 3 and various grades of fish meal used primarily to feed other animals such as swine, chickens, pets and in aquaculture. There is only one reduction facility left on the East Coast to process Atlantic menhaden. It is owned by Omega Protein and is located in Reedville, VA. It should be stated at the outset that the bait sector is indispensible to the seafood industry. The products of the reduction industry are not indispensible and can be obtained by other means which do not always require fish as raw material.

Every time the aspect of limiting the harvest of menhaden comes up, Omega raises the issue of potential loss of jobs. Typically the number of people affected is given at approximately 300. The actual number of jobs affected would depend on the percentage decrease in harvest, so it may be as little as 30-40 people depending on the actual volume targeted and processed. A drastic loss of jobs would occur only if the allowable catch would put the plant below its breakeven point and was no longer profitable. Most of its predecessors went out of business due to economics.

The issue of jobs is a valid one, especially with the current economic situation in the United States. No one wants to see jobs disappear, but the concern is hardly limited to the reduction industry. The bait industry has something at stake here also. As an example consider the lobster industry in New England and the blue crab industry in the Chesapeake Bay. In Maryland the value of crabs harvested and brought to dock (ex vessel) amounts to $40 million annually. Economists tell me that to convert the ex vessel to a “retail” ( my term) value use a factor of 3. Virginia’s catch is reportedly $30 million ex vessel. Applying the same factor, the value of Chesapeake crabs annually amounts to $210 million. In New England, primarily Maine, the commercial harvest of lobster amounts to $300 million annually. Using the same multiplier we have a total value of $900 million for lobster. The primary outlet for menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay is bait is for crabs. In New England the preferred bait for lobster is herring. However, the herring stocks have been overfished to the point that the catch has been severely curtailed. Hence the menhaden are now becoming the primary bait. Here are two significant, easily recognized sea food categories dependent on menhaden. Together they are worth more than one billion annually. At those levels, the number of jobs required is many multiples of the +/- 300 jobs at risk in Virginia. The last economic study the writer has seen relating to the reduction industry was conducted some years ago by Southwick. Economic impact was placed AT $45 million annually. Today it is likely higher due to increasing demand from aquaculture. This business is expanding especially in areas without the capacity to provide their own feed stock.

When the Commissioners come to the issue of allocation, if they decide on a quota, these economic factors cannot be ignored. It is part of the job of Commissioners to make decisions which consider economic consequences as much as biological consequences. It is not enough to simply say all parties should share equally in any curtailment of their activities when the data tells us it is a lopsided situation. They should be mindful of the outcry of JOBS!, JOBS!, JOBS!

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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