In August, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) adopted Ecological Reference Points (ERPs) for the management of Atlantic menhaden. ERPs consider the role played by a fish species within the larger ecosystem, e.g. what importance it has as a predator or prey. The 2021-2022 quota for menhaden, which will be set by the ASMFC this month, will be based on ERPs. “Managers are looking at a wide range of options ranging from no reduction through fairly sizable [>40%],” Matthew Cieri, a Department of Marine Resources biologist, explained in an email.
Management decisions for menhaden now will be based on how it interacts with other species, in particular striped bass because it is sensitive to menhaden fluctuations. The striped bass population remains low and is considered overfished.
The ASMFC’s recent vote was a major shift from “single species management” of fish stocks, which weighs such factors as mortality and reproduction rates, fishing pressure and other variables, to “multi-species management,” which considers the balance between a sustainable ecosystem and commercial and recreational fisheries.
A recent study by Steve Cadrin of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth published by the Science Center for Marine Fisheries found that the vast majority of menhaden remain in the water at current fishing levels.
The study found that over the ten-year period of 2008 to 2017, the fishery “harvested an average of less than one percent of the total menhaden population, with the remaining percent of the menhaden stock left in the ocean serving as food for predators and other species. … Another important measurement, fecundity, has reached a near-record high, and is well above the threshold level set by the ASMFC,” Cadrin wrote.
The 2020 quota for Atlantic menhaden was 216,000 metric tons. The majority of landings goes to the reduction fishery, in which menhaden are used to produce fish meal and oil. Approximately 30% of landings serve as an essential bait supply for several Atlantic coast fisheries, including lobster.
At the ASMFC’s meeting in October, the Commissioners will use ERPs for menhaden to set the Total Allowable Catch, as well as move forward on new measures to rebuild the Atlantic coast’s striped bass stocks. Maine’s 2020 menhaden quota allocation was 2.4 million pounds (1,088.6 metric tons). Maine fishermen were allowed to catch an additional 4.7 million pounds (2,131.8 metric tons) through the Episodic Event Set Aside program before the fishery transitioned to the small-scale menhaden fishery which limits harvester vessels to landing 6,000 pounds per day.