By Carl LoBue
Late last fall several of us contributed stories, videos, letters, and images documenting what the long awaited recovery of Atlantic Menhaden (AKA bunker) to NY looks like. At that time, we asked people to share thoughts and opinions with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) during the development of Draft Amendment 3 to the Atlantic Menhaden Fishery Management Plan. There was a well-attended public meeting in December 2016 where managers heard that New Yorkers, who often don’t agree on fisheries issues, all agreed that NY loves menhaden and want to see recovery continue.
The Draft Amendment is now available, and your voices are once again needed. As far as fishery plan amendments go, this one is unfortunately (and needlessly) complicated. It is complicated because ASMFC commissioners cannot agree on a path forward. While some are trying to fundamentally change the criteria for setting quotas and allocation, others prefer the to do things the old way which gives Virginia (85%) and New Jersey (11%) a whopping 96% of the coast wide quota. In fact, and in the past two years managers have twice significantly increased their quota while giving every state other than VA and NJ virtually nothing.
Many reputable fishermen and environmental organizations have already posted articles, blogs, and template form letters making it easier for people to digest plan details and submit comments. Rather than repeat that here, it is easier to direct you to the hyperlinks above.
The bottom line is this. ASMFC must follow through and develop and utilize what is called ecological reference points in determining how many menhaden should be allowed to be harvested. In laymen’s terms, that means leaving enough menhaden in the water to feed whales, dolphins, sharks, seals, striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, ospreys, gannets, eagles and more. And until the time that the government technical folks come up with that number, the ASMFC should use interim ecological reference points developed by a team of scientists specifically for the group of species called “forage fish.” In ASMFC speak, this means specifying support for “Option E in Section 2.6 of Amendment 3,” which would leave 75 percent of the population un-caught and require that the wild population never drops below 40 percent of its potential size if there was no fishing at all.
There are most certainly other parts of Draft Amendment 3 worth commenting on. For example, I think this plan has the potential to be overly administratively burdensome to fishermen and fishery managers, and that the entire thing could be greatly simplified by giving states like NY a higher proportion of the quota so that Long Island’s small scale bait seiners and pound netters can harvest at levels that won’t have a negative impact, but will help our fishermen, and could even help prevent fish kills. Right now, NY has a ridiculous 0.06% of the total coast wide quota. If that was increased to just 1-2%, this fishery would be much easier to manage. This makes sense. As the menhaden recover they will return to their historic northern range. Northern fishermen, who have been cut out of this fishery because of historic overharvesting down south, should be able to reclaim at least a small remnant of this resource to supply bait to other fisheries. But this means that fishery managers must better prioritize what is best for people and wildlife along the entire coast, which so far, they have had trouble actuating.
Public comments on Draft Amendment 3 will be accepted until 5:00 p.m. on October 20, 2017.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject line: Draft Amendment 3)
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
1050 N. Highland Street,
Suite 200 A-N
Arlington VA. 22201
The details of the Draft Amendment will be reviewed, and public comments will be solicited at public hearings in September and October in states all along the Atlantic Coast. The New York Hearing will be on September 12 at NYS DEC Marine Division Offices at 205 Belle Meade Rd, East Setauket NY 11724. www.asmfc.org/species/atlantic-menhaden/.
More images and video on page 2: