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ASMFC votes to restrict Atlantic Menhaden catch
Captain Dave Monti
A bucket of fish for research: A bucket of tautog caught for research on the charter vessel L'il Toot. Capt. John Rainone took a family (with children) from the Narragansett Recreation Department's assistance program fishing along with town officials and State DEM researchers.

This past Friday the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted on Draft Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden which outlined a number of new regulations on the species. The ASMFC is comprised of representatives from fifteen coastal states.

"Today the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission listened to the science and the public in taking a historic step to end overfishing of Atlantic Menhaden and to begin to rebuild the population of this important little fish." said Peter Baker of the PEW Environment Group. "By adopting the first coastwise catch limit on this fishery, the commission has begun to reverse the 90 percent plunge in the menhaden population over the past three decades. Sound science clearly calls for leaving more of these fish in the water to fulfill their ecological role. More menhaden means more food for ocean wildlife, from seabirds to whales and popular game fish such as striped bass." said Baker. A new total allowable catch (TAC) limit along with regulations to achieve it will help ensure that the Atlantic Menhaden biomass rebuilds and stays at desired sustainable levels.

The approved Amendment establishes a 170,800 metric ton (MT) total allowable catch (TAC) beginning in 2013 and continuing until completion of, and Board action on, the next benchmark stock assessment, scheduled for 2014. The TAC represents a 25% reduction from 2011 levels and a 20% reduction from the average of landings from 2009-2011. The ASMFC board had also adopted new biological reference points for biomass based on maximum spawning potential (MSP), with the goal of increasing abundance, spawning stock biomass, and menhaden availability as a forage species.

"Through the selection of the MSP-based reference points, beginning with adoption of Addendum V in 2011 and continuing today, the Board has made a conscious decision to address the ecosystem services provided by Atlantic menhaden," stated ASMFC Board Chair Louis Daniel of North Carolina. "Given the stock is experiencing overfishing and is most likely overfished based on the newly adopted reference points, it was incumbent upon the Board to reduce landings in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource and the fisheries that depend on it." said Daniel.

The new overfished and threshold definitions were accompanied by a number of regulations to help achieve desired levels. Atlantic Menhaden are harvested for use in fertilizers, pet food, cosmetics and for use in fish protein pills. One company, Omega Protein, is historically responsible for harvesting about 80% of all Atlantic Menhaden. Commercial bait fishers also harvest Atlantic Menhaden for use as bait in lobster pots and for use by recreational anglers as bait to catch game fish such as striped bass.

Widespread participation from both sides of the issue… industry processors and recreational anglers/environmentalists weighed in with the ASMFC and put pressure on legislators and representatives from states that are ASMFC members.

Each state is represented by three commissioners: the director for the state's marine fisheries management agency, a state legislator, and an individual appointed by the governor. Rhode Island commission representatives include Mark Gibson and Robert Ballou (both from RI DEM) and Representative Peter Martin (Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association, is a RI Legislative proxy). Comments from them on ASMFC proceedings will be covered in next week's column.

However, at press time not everyone was satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. Don Smith, ASMFC Atlantic Menhaden advisory panel member and active member of the RI Saltwater Anglers Association went to Baltimore to advocate for tougher regulations. Smith said, "It was a joke. Two years ago Omega Protein representatives shared with our panel that they could live with a 20 percent reduction and not more. And you know, that is exactly what they got. Rhode Island representatives on the committee seemed to be siding with commercial fishing interest calling for votes below 20% when we were advocating for a 30 percent reduction. Menhaden serve as a primary food source for striped bass and other fish in Rhode Island. I question whether Rhode Island representatives on the committee had our best interest in mind when they voted."

Steve Medeiros, president of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association said, "We and other fishing associations sent representatives to Baltimore Friday to make sure the Council knew just how important a healthy Atlantic Menhaden bio mass is to environment and recreational anglers."

Menhaden are an oily fish and a favorite meal for sharks, whales, striped bass and other game fish targeted by recreational anglers. They are an important part of the food chain. Atlantic Menhaden also serve as roving filters, converting algae into energy and thus reducing nutrient loads in bays and covers. An adult menhaden is able to process up to 4 gallons of water per minute or a million gallons of water every 180 days. Multiply this by the number of menhaden in any given area and this is an amazing amount of water being filtered, a reduction of nutrients means fewer algae blooms and ultimately more oxygen for all fish.

The Amendment allocates the TAC on a state-by-state basis based on landings history of the fishery from 2009-2011; allocation will be revisited three years after implementation. Further, it reduces the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishery harvest cap by 20% (this is an adjustment of cap which was in place since 2006). States will be required to close their fisheries when the state-specific portion of the TAC has been reached; any overages must be paid back the following year. The Amendment includes provisions to allow for the transfer of quota between states (which may be particularly important for Rhode Island and Massachusetts as historically most of the Atlantic Menhaden caught in RI is landed in MA). A by catch allowance of 6,000 pounds was approved for non-directed fisheries that are operating after a state TAC has been landed. The Amendment also establishes requirements for timely reporting and improved biological monitoring.

Teaming up to help family in need

The Department of Environmental Management, in conjunction with the RI Party and Charter Boat Association and the Narragansett Department of Parks and Recreation, helped turn a recent scientific fish monitoring survey into a recreational fishing experience for a family in need.

Working with principal marine biologist Jason McNamee of DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife, John Rainone of the RI Party and Charter Boat Association, and Steven Wright and Tom Tessitore of the Narragansett Department of Parks and Recreation, a tautog collection survey took place on the morning after Thanksgiving. A family from the Narragansett Parks and Recreation assistance program was chosen to participate in a free tautog fishing trip aboard Captain John Rainone's L'il Toot charter boat. While the family had an opportunity to enjoy a fun day of recreational fishing for tautog, they also helped collect 31 fish ranging from 10-22 inches in length for DEM's monitoring program. Nicole Travisono, a principal biologist in DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife, was onboard the vessel to coordinate the scientific collection.

"Sometimes hard work is a lot of fun. In addition to the scientific benefits, the collaboration provided this Narragansett family - a father and two boys, aged seven and nine - an opportunity to take part in a fun-filled day of fishing on a charter vessel and to bring home some freshly-caught fish," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "While they were out in the state's waters, they also saw dolphins - another highlight of their fishing trip! And, I bet this special project deepened their appreciation for the variety of marine life in our seas. All in all, the effort provided a boost to our science and a good day all around." said Coit.

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay for over 40 years. He holds a captain's master license, a charter fishing license, and is a member of the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council and the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association. Visit Captain Dave's No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com, his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com or email him at dmontifish@verizon.net.


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