December 30, 2016 — The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which manages many of the saltwater species we fish in Rhode Island that travel the east coast, held an Atlantic menhaden public hearing Monday at the URI Bay Campus.
The hearing addressed a Public Information Document (PID) that aims to incorporate ecosystem-based management strategies to manage Atlantic menhaden. The PID serves as a predecessor to an amendment (Amendment 3) to the Atlantic menhaden Fishery Management Plan scheduled to be developed next year. About 30 recreational and commercial fishermen, fish processors, environmental groups (like Save the Bay) and fish managers attended the hearing. Two main issues were discussed at the hearing. The first issue was the use of ecosystem-based management strategies to determine stock status and allowable catch limits. The second issue addressed landing timeframes, which would be used to determine allocation of quota.
Recreational anglers up and down the east coast have claimed that fishing for striped bass and other game fish is off when the quantity of Atlantic menhaden (a forage fish for striped bass) is down. Additionally, Atlantic menhaden are filter feeders, with each fish processing thousands of gallons of water filtering out plankton to help prevent algae blooms. The Atlantic menhaden Fishery Management Plan will be the first ASMFC plan that utilizes ecosystem-based management in this fashion.
Meghan Lapp of Seafreeze, Ltd., North Kingstown (the largest producer and trader of sea-frozen fish on the East Coast) and a member of the ASMFC Atlantic menhaden Advisory Panel, said “Historically, Rhode Island has landed a lot more fish than the allocation reflects.” George Allen, representing the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (a recreational fishing association that represents 30 different fishing organizations with 7,500 members), said, “Currently, one state (Virginia) takes 85 percent of the catch because of the Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery. This is inequitable for the rest of the coastal states.”
Most in attendance were in agreement that the Atlantic menhaden allocation in the northeast states, and specifically Rhode Island, should be enhanced to more accurately reflect historical catch over a longer period of time, including the time period when landings were high due to active processing plants in the northern states. So, instead of using average landings between 2009 and 2011, many at the meeting were advocating for a longer time-series average, extending to include years prior to 2009 such as 1985, when more accurate bait fishery landings data became available.