Fearing that the oily menhaden is being overfished to near collapse by an industry that sells it worldwide for oil, animal feed and sport fishing bait, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to limit the total that can be harvested in a year to 170,800 metric tons, a 20 percent reduction in the average catch over the past three years.Offhand, my guess would be that that's too small a cut, and that menhaden stocks will continue to decline, perhaps at a slower rate.
In a half-century of overfishing, the stock has shown a dramatic decline — from 90 billion fish that were 1 year old or younger 50 years ago, to 18 billion that same age in 2010, according to the commission.The classic signs of a fishery in the first stages of collapse; large declines in the standing stocks. Even if it's only a temporary environmental issue (fish recruitment is subject to climate cycles like the North Atlantic Oscillation), continued over fishing during the "down" phase will exacerbate the problem.
It will, however, significantly impact the economics of the fishing communities, especially at Reedville, VA, where Omega Protein, the company that harvests 80% of the Menhaden on the East Coast:
But the historic vote saddened Ken Pinkard, a representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers union that serves the mostly black community of fishermen who’ve worked the ocean off Reedville for more than a century.But if the fisheries crashes completely, there may be no recovery; that's a common pattern. Then, instead of a 20% pay cut, it will be 100% forever.
“We don’t know exactly what the job loss will be, what the impact is,” he said. “Put it this way, when I go home today I’m going to make 20 percent less than last year. It’s scary. Really scary.”