With a rich history and a cultural legacy surpassed by none, the Atlantic menhaden fishery is one of the oldest fisheries in the United States.
Since the fishery's inception in the 1700s, the Atlantic menhaden population is as robust and healthy today as it ever has been.
Unfortunately, even with the long record of cooperating with management and science institutions, the menhaden industry continues to be the subject of a great deal of false accusations and myths popularized by anti-fishing activists.
Some individuals believe that the current management of menhaden is inappropriate and call for federal intervention, either through direct federal management or through federal oversight of the management processes prosecuted through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the states.
The Atlantic menhaden fishery has long been managed under the jurisdictions of the various states in which menhaden fishing occurs. It is important to note that the states retain sovereign authority to regulate menhaden in their respective waters. They do not give up their management responsibility when operating cooperatively through the ASMFC.
All fisheries management institutions in the United States today rely heavily on science to inform the decision-making process. Federal law requires the use of the best available science in its regulatory deliberations.
Some people believe that the ASMFC relies too heavily on science and say that the process is not working appropriately. The reliance upon the best available science is the cornerstone of fisheries management. To manage fisheries according to any other alternative is not only ill-advised, but also inherently flawed in all respects. How can decisions that affect people's lives, livelihoods and personal pursuits be made in the absence of the science?
All fisheries scientists would agree that they would like more and better data; however, these same scientists are on the front lines working hard to make our existing science better.
As it relates to scientific research, the stock assessment for Atlantic menhaden has shown year after year that the population of Atlantic menhaden is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.
A new stock assessment is nearing completion, expected to be finalized by May 2010, and preliminary results from that assessment are expected to again show that the population is in good shape. We, along with many others, are awaiting completion of that assessment.
One of the more popular misconceptions about menhaden is that they are able to clean coastal waters, specifically the Chesapeake Bay, with their filter-feeding behavior. Most scientists know that this is not true. Fisheries managers can make that statement because of a number of research projects that have been conducted over the years in an attempt to scientifically establish menhaden feeding behavior and diets.
The most recent of these research projects was conducted by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and was completed in late 2009. This study found that juvenile (age 0) menhaden are able to consume measurable amounts of phytoplankton; however, age 1+ menhaden do not consume phytoplankton; they consume zooplankton.
The study assessed these findings relative to whether menhaden can consume enough phytoplankton to reduce the amount of man-made nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay. The result of this work was clear; menhaden feeding has no effect in the reduction of nitrogen levels in the Chesapeake Bay.
These findings should be definitive enough to dispel any notion that menhaden can be relied on to clean up our coastal waters.
It will take a concerted effort on the part of all citizens of the country to reduce the amount of pollutants we are putting in the water to really make a difference, but relying on fabricated physiological habits of menhaden won't do the trick.
Another misconception and frequent talking point by environmental and sportfishing activists is menhaden's role in the Chesapeake Bay food chain. While it is a fact that menhaden are eaten by many species of fish, birds and mammals, some people believe that the menhaden removals by fishing result in predatory fish species not getting enough forage to maintain their health.
Again, looking at a survey of the Chesapeake Bay conducted by VIMS, data show that from 2004 through 2006, the amount of menhaden eaten by striped bass increased 12-fold. Two independent reviewers of this data are on record stating that such a significant increase in predation rates by striped bass indicate that there are sufficient menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay to provide forage to predators.
Most scientists and managers would agree that fisheries management could use more money to fund research and data collection.
Fisheries management could use more infrastructure in the form of equipment and scientists. Fisheries management could also use the continuation of participation by the best scientific minds in the discipline.
Omega Protein is in full agreement with this line of thinking.
What fisheries management doesn't need is more bureaucracy or more unnecessary regulations.
We are all looking forward with anticipation to the completion of the ongoing stock assessment, because we believe that menhaden fishing is sustainable both biologically and ecologically.
We plan to continue our long history of cooperation with research and management agencies and institutions to ensure the long-term viability of the Atlantic menhaden population for future generations.