After countless years of debate, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Tuesday to have its scientists prepare a plan to manage menhaden as a vital cog in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and proposed curbing the commercial industry in the interim.This is a big deal. Up until this point, ASMFC has regulated menhaden coast wide, meaning that the big fishing industry was free to target Chesapeake Bay for the majority of their catch of menhaden, the single greatest catch in Chesapeake Bay. This, in turn, depleted the numbers of this important forage fish in the Bay, and MAY have contributed to nutrition problems with the main predatory fish in the bay, striped bass and bluefish.
The commission could vote as early as August to send the proposal out for public comment, but it is more likely a decision will come in November with implementation coming in 2013.
"This action has potential to increase the spawning stock by 50 percent," said Maryland Fisheries Service Director Tom O'Connell, an ASMFC member. "This action was needed. A [scientific review] spotlighted the need for conservation."
The vote was 15-1, with one abstention...
The party not happy with this decision no doubt represents Virginia, the state where the menhaden fishing fleet is headquartered.
Despite a move by Virginia to slow the process again in favor of more study, commissioners instructed scientists to prepare a plan that would manage menhaden to provide a food source for predators, such as striped bass, weakfish and bluefish.
Further, commissioners decided to put 15 percent of the spawning stock off limits for harvest while the management plan is amended. The current level is estimated at 9 percent. (Last year's scientific review recommended that 75 percent of the unfished breeding stock needs to be off limits.)
A spokesman for Omega Protein said the company has adopted a "wait and see attitude" on the plan.