Menhaden fishing vessel EARL J. CONRAD, JR. owned by Omega Protein Corporaton idling near seine skiffs of the FV TIDELAND in the Chesapeake Bay near Reedville, Virginia.
So who gets the menhaden... the recreational angler, the commercial bait fisherman, the large commercial reduction processor or… the ecosystem and striped bass that eat it as a primary food source?
Being a fish manager is difficult. It is difficult because you have a lot of interests vying for the same resource and when the resource is scare (or on the decline) the challenges get all the more difficult. That is what is happening to Atlantic Menhaden and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) this month.
After a month of public hearings up and down the east coast, the ASMFC closed its comment period November 2, 2011 on Atlantic Menhaden Draft Addendum V which entertains regulation revisions on menhaden. The species, according to 2008 data, and 2010 fish landings is being over fished, new survey data will be available in 2012.
Fishing thresholds and harvest levels are being considered as well as a range of tools to manage the species for all those vying for menhaden. Proposed regulation options have created quite a stir in fishing circles. Recreational anglers have mobilized and attended the ASMFC November 2 meeting in mass. They claim menhaden play a large role in the ecosystem… as a primary food source for bluefish, weakfish and striped bass but also as filter feeders helping to reduce nitrate levels in our bays and estuaries.
Recreational anglers including the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) and the national Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) and the environmental community (such as the PEW Environment Group) claim that the decline of menhaden on the east coast (now at 10% of what it used to be) can be attributed primarily to the reduction processing industry. Specifically they have singled out Omega Protein Corporation of Reedville, VA and Houston, TX as the primary culprit. They claim that the reduction industry (with Omega Protein Corporation holding a monopoly) took 27% more fish in 2010 than they did in 2009 and overall the fishery has been fished over quota for the past fifty years. In fact, PEW planned to run an ad in the Providence Journal this week encouraging Governor Lincoln Chaffee and the Rhode Island ASMFC delegation to support and vote for tougher menhaden catch regulations.
The reduction industry (and Omega Protein Corporation) have large capacity “primary” holding ships, a fleet of airplanes that find fish for their fishing vessels, and smaller purse seine net vessels. Purse seine nets allow them to take large numbers of fish (entire schools in a matter of minutes). The purse seine net has been around for over a 150 years. The net is set by surrounding a school of fish, enclosing the lower end of the net (pursing) and then unloading the fish onto a boat. Advocates ask that vessel and gear restrictions be explored as well as reduced thresholds and quotas for the reduction industry. They are concerned that once menhaden start to bounce back, quotas will be increased and the downward cycle will begin again. The historic low numbers of fish and menhaden’s importance to the ecosystem are being cited as reason to develop regulations that restrict the reduction industry and other menhaden user groups as well.
The importance of menhaden to the ecosystem was brought to light in the Chesapeake Bay recently as malnourished striped bass (that did not get enough menhaden because they were overfished in the Chesapeake) developed a disease, mycobacteriosis, which led to a decline in healthy fish up and down the east coast (visit www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com and search “mycobacteriosis” for more information).
The recreational angler uses menhaden for bait (to catch striped bass, either live or cut up in chunks). The commercial bait fishers sell their catch to lobstermen who use it as bait for their traps, they also sell their catch to bait shops, and the commercial reduction industry (primarily Omega Protein Corporation here on the east coast with its monopoly) process menhaden for use as fertilizers, pet food, animal and human dietary supplements and for human consumption of omega-3 fish oil. These are all good uses.
However, it is hoped that fish managers and the ASMFC will consider the ecosystem first as the primary concern… protecting it so that the striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and other species that need menhaden to survive and thrive get their share of menhaden first. History has proven if we do not have enough menhaden for the ecosystem… the system will fail.
DEM delivers on license program
At this week’s Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council meeting the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Division of Fish and Wildlife presented the first saltwater recreational fishing license program annual report. DEM is required to report annually on the program, revenues raised and how it will spend monies to promote the saltwater fishery in Rhode Island. About $250,000 net is expected to be in the license fund account from 2010 and 2011 license fees (it was decided to have funds accumulate in 2010). Most of the money is being spent to match federal fund grants. Suggestions in the annual report that were reviewed at the RIMFC Tuesday night meeting included funds for better data collection, boat ramp improvements and maintenance, funds for recreational fisheries management support staff, the artificial reef program, fish stock assessment support and funds for education, information and public outreach.
NOAA releases final report on groundfish sector
NOAA recently released the 2010 Final Report on the Performance of the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery. Findings from the report will be presented at the New England Fishery Management Council’s “lessons learned” workshop this week in Portland, Maine.
In a press advisory this week NOAA said the workshop is expected to yield important new recommendations for the groundfish fishery that NOAA and the Council can work to put in place. These actions, coupled with other actions underway at NOAA and through the Council, will help fishermen and fishing communities operate successfully despite low quotas required by Congress to end overfishing and rebuild stocks.
Sector management is part of that effort, as well as actions taken in the 2011 fishing year to improve the industry’s access to fish. Over the last year, NOAA moved quickly to increase catch levels based on new science on fish stocks and allowed fishermen to fish in some previously closed areas, in particular areas close to the shore where smaller vessels fish. NOAA and the Council are considering additional actions, such as allowing fishing in previously closed areas and rolling over unused quota to the following fishing year. Earlier this month NOAA agreed to fund at-sea monitoring through the end of the 2012 fishing year which ends on April 13, 2013.
The report shows that groundfish revenues decreased in 2010 compared to 2009. But overall, revenues to groundfish vessels, including revenues from non-groundfish species, increased. Despite lower catch limits required to end overfishing and rebuild stocks, the groundfish industry obtained more value from fewer fish landed and less fishing effort expended.
Where’s the bite
Striped bass bite continues off Block Island with reports of fish in the 40 pound range being taken with ells. Ken Ferrara of Ray’s Bait & Tackle, Warwick, reports a good bite in Apponaug Cove as anglers fish under schools of menhaden for both striped bass and bluefish. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence, said, “The Providence River has been producing bass up to 45 inches… pogie and mackerel chunks are the preferred baits… Cape Cod Canal anglers report good fishing with a mix of bass and blues.” Ron Nalbandian reports on Monday, “No more that 30 yards offshore on Weekapaug Beach…(I caught) a bunch of school bass, the largest was 26 inches.” Ron was using 4” white shad as bait.
Tautog fishing remained good this week and last week. Gisele and Rich Golembeski caught several nice tautog while fishing rock piles near Whale Rock off Narragansett. Rich caught a great 8.5 pound fish and five in the 17” to 20” range. They used green crabs, cut in half in approximately 30 feet of water. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle said, “Tautog fishing has been good in the Providence River at India Point Park, Conley Dock and structure throughout the river. Tautog fishing at the breakwater in Wickford has been productive as well.” Francis Fleet captains reported a good tautog bite Monday with most anglers catching their limit.
Cod fishing is fair when boats have been able to sail. Steve Medeiros, president of RISAA, who regularly tracks stock assessments said, “Have just received information that the ASMFC's benchmark cod assessment has come in, and it shows a huge drop in the stock. Supposedly 2 year classes have disappeared. If this holds to be true, they are talking about an 80-90% cut for everything north of Cape Cod (Gulf of Maine). I suppose this news will be released at the ASMFC meeting in two weeks.”
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. Your fishing photos in JPEG from, stories, comments and questions are welcome… there’s more than one way to catch a fish. Visit Captain Dave’s No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.