Menhaden Fisheries Coalition Responds to Claims of ‘Environmental Collateral Damage’ From Mission Blue – Sylvia Earle Alliance

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The Menhaden Fisheries Coalition maintains that the Atlantic menhaden fishery is being responsibly and sustainably managed, and that there is little negative impact to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Menhaden Fisheries Coalition finds that there is little to support the claim of “environmental collateral damage.” Evidence instead points to the fishery being responsibly and sustainably managed.

A recent post from Mission Blue – Sylvia Earle Alliance (“Chesapeake Bay Suffers from Menhaden Reduction Industry”) makes several claims about the Atlantic menhaden fishery, most notably that the fishery, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay, is responsible for “environmental collateral damage.” The Menhaden Fisheries Coalition disputes this categorization, as based on the most recent assessments conducted on the menhaden stock, there is little evidence that the menhaden fishery is negatively impacting the health of the species.

Mission Blue claims that menhaden are the only species “managed directly by Virginia’s General Assembly,” and implies that menhaden are managed according to political, rather than scientific, considerations. But menhaden harvest levels are not set by the Virginia General Assembly. Instead, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), an interstate scientific and management body, is responsible for setting menhaden quotas according to the latest menhaden science and stock assessments. The General Assembly, while approving and implementing the quotas within Virginia borders, do not determine what harvest levels are appropriate, and do not act contrary to the ASMFC’s scientific advice.

According to the ASMFC’s most recent 2015 stock assessment, Atlantic menhaden are neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing, meaning that the fishery is not significantly impacting the long-term viability of the resource. In 2015, the ASMFC even raised the coastwide menhaden quota by 10 percent, in recognition of the fishery’s sustainability. The 2015 stock assessment contains other indicators that point to the fishery being sustainable. Fishing mortality is near an all-time low. The reduction fishery is smaller and having less of an impact on the menhaden stock than at any point in its history. Fecundity is near an all-time high.

Fecundity is a particularly important measurement, as it may be one of the best metrics available to predict the future health of the stock. As the ASMFC has acknowledged, the size of the menhaden population does not have a discernible impact on the number of menhaden that actually spawn, with environmental conditions being a far better indicator than fishing for whether or not future menhaden year classes will be large enough to sustain the resource.

According to the ASMFC, “the stock-recruitment relationship observed to date is weak at best,” and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science states that “environmental conditions are likely more important than the size of spawning stock in determining reproductive success.” Ensuring that the stock is producing enough eggs—as is currently the case—is thus the best tool fisheries managers have to influence future menhaden stock size.

Considering that the Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery is smaller than at any point in its history, and is currently abiding by the scientifically determined catch levels set by interstate fisheries managers, the Menhaden Coalition finds that there is little to support the claim of “environmental collateral damage.” Evidence instead points to the fishery being responsibly and sustainably managed.

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Bob Vanasse