"Management of menhaden has become very controversial because of different views of how we allocate menhaden between commercial and bait fisheries and those left in the ocean to serve as prey for striped bass and other predators," said the study's lead researcher Dr. Tom Miller, professor and director of the Center's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, Maryland. "We're trying to estimate from a scientific viewpoint how much we need to leave for the predators to fulfill other important roles in the ecosystem."
More than 300 million pounds are caught every year and processed into meal and oil for livestock food, including food for aquacultured fish, and Omega-3 fish oil supplements for people, in the largest plant of its kind on the East Coast. A substantial amount of menhaden is also harvested and used for bait in crab and lobster fisheries. This new study will adopt an ecosystem-based approach to managing Atlantic menhaden. Rather than focusing on how many fish could be sustainably landed by harvesters, ecosystem-based management focuses first on preserving the structure and function of the ecosystem that surrounds and sustains each fish species under management.
"The menhaden fishery could become a poster child for ecosystem-based fisheries management," said co-investigator Dr. Ed Houde, a leading authority on forage fish ecology and ecosystem-based fisheries management. "This study will help us to identify the role of menhaden in the ecosystem, and how many are needed in the water to keep the balance."
Management of fisheries in the past has largely been based on maximizing the gain to fisheries. Managing the menhaden fishery to allow it to support their important role as forage fish to predator species coast wide is very unusual, and much more difficult than ordinary fisheries management (which is not usually very successful in any event). This is an important first step.
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