REEDVILLE, Va., — April 1, 2013 — A new scientific study released February 1 on the status of menhaden along the Atlantic coast has resulted in more questions than answers on whether the species are overfished—a claim that led to a decision last December by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to slash the allowable catch by 20%.
The new restriction forced Omega Protein of Reedville, one of the area’s largest employers with a $15 million payroll, to cut two fishing vessels and 50 positions, according to the company’s director of fishing operations, Monty Diehl.
Was the ASMFC decision to impose restrictions too hasty?
During the December meeting, it was the contention of a majority of commission members that menhaden are being overfished while other members questioned the reliability of the data being used. They asked the commission not to rush into imposing restrictions but to wait for a thorough study.
“The commission was under a great deal of pressure from sport fishing and environmentalists,” said Diehl. But the truth is, only a 2008 study showed overfishing, and by just 0.4%, while subsequent studies have been erratic, he said.
The February 1 report by ASMFC’s Technical Committee questioned if current methods of measuring menhaden stock are reliable based on the fact that only one major fishery, Omega Protein, remains on the East Coast.
“The Technical Committee said, ‘We do not trust our model. We need to develop a new model,’” said Diehl. The committee did several sensitivity studies in January, one showing the stock is overfished while a newer study model shows it was not. “Scientists are saying ‘We can’t say that its overfished.’ This should bring into question if the (ASMFC) board members knew then what they know now, would they have made a 10% cut rather than 20%? There is a huge difference between the two models,” Diehl noted.