Menhaden Stocks Worse Than Expected

Commercial menhaden netting. NOAA photo.

At the November 8 meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Menhaden Management Board in Charleston, South Carolina, it was discovered that an error was made in the 2009 stock assessment for Atlantic menhaden, a key prey species of almost every inshore food and game fish along the East Coast. Upon closer examination of the data, it was found that mortality had been underestimated, which had resulted in the stock abundance being overestimated.

Menhaden in the hold of the mother vessel, NOAA photo.

Thus far, the ASMFC says its data show that menhaden are not overfished, and that the current level of harvest can support the fishery. Conservation and recreational fishing groups, particularly in Chesapeake Bay, say that’s not the case. They report a dearth of juvenile menhaden in the Chesapeake over the last decade, which they say is resulting in malnourished striped bass that are more susceptible to disease, most notably mycobacteriosis. It is estimated that 70 percent of the striped bass in the Chesapeake are infected with the potentially fatal (to the fish) disease.

Naturally, menhaden are a hot topic among fishermen and conservationists. The majority of Atlantic menhaden are harvested by Omega Seafoods of Reedville, Virginia, which “reduces” the fish into Omega 3 oil supplements. Another, smaller-scale menhaden fishery provides bait for the lobster industry. Many coastal states have banned the large-scale netting of menhaden within state waters.

The AMFSC will meet again in March to reconsider management measures for Atlantic menhaden based on the new findings.

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