Fishing industry representatives will be removed from the committee that oversees the East Coast menhaden fishery when a new plan is written next year to manage the small fish.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Manage-ment Board, at its November meeting, directed the commission’s staff to draft changes to the fishery management plan that would reorganize the menhaden board to resemble other ASMFC committees.
ASMFC — a compact including all East Coast states that manages migratory fish — has a separate board for each species it is responsible for. But its menhaden board is the only body that includes industry representatives, who account for half of the membership.
The makeup of the menhaden board was the top complaint ASMFC received this year when it took public comments about potential changes in menhaden management.
Menhaden, whose numbers have been declining, have become a contentious issue in the Bay and along the coast. Many sport anglers have expressed alarm about the demise of the small fish, which is an important food source for striped bass, bluefish, weakfish and other popular recreational species.
Some people, including scientists, have faulted the ASMFC’s current menhaden management plan for not taking into account the need for a greater population of “forage” fish such as menhaden while populations of predator species, like striped bass, are rebounding.
In the Chesapeake Bay, some have speculated that a recent decline in menhaden has slowed the growth of striped bass and affected their health in some areas.
While menhaden are not the target of recreational anglers, they are the largest commercial catch in the Chesapeake, measured by weight and numbers. They are processed into oil, animal feed and other products.
Besides changing the board’s composition, a revised fishery management plan for menhaden will likely recommend other changes, such as taking into account the ecological role of the fish when making decisions.
Joe Desfosse, ASMFC management plan coordinator for menhaden, said potential management plan changes could be available for review by the menhaden board’s February meeting.
But, he said, the Commission’s Interstate Fishery Management Program Policy Board — which oversees menhaden and other management boards — has suggested that the menhaden board be restructured before a new management plan is developed, so that may be addressed in February instead.
In either case, it is possible that a fully revised draft management plan could be acted upon by the board at its spring meeting, and then go out for public comment in the summer. In that case, Desfosse said, it’s possible the revised plan could be adopted by the ASMFC in fall 2000.