It’s a fish that almost never ends up on dinner plates and isn’t widely known among the general public.
That didn’t stop 127,000 people who care deeply about the future of menhaden from writing to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to tell members how they should vote when they meet in Baltimore on Monday and Tuesday to decide how to manage the fishery for the oily, bony fish along the East Coast. The vote could set a future course that dictates who gets to catch menhaden.
. . . fisheries scientists, like Houde, argue that the health of the whole ecological system needs to be considered.
Models that he and a group of other scientists have worked on recently show that some species, including striped bass and tuna, might be more abundant if the menhaden population was allowed to grow. Menhaden don’t grow to more than 10 inches long and, like sardines and herring, are a forage fish.
“All these big predator fish and eagles and ospreys all have a high percentage of menhaden in their diets,” Houde said. “People are concerned about the overfishing of menhaden.”
Large quantities of menhaden have been taken from the coastal waters and estuaries along the East Coast since 1850. As a result, Houde said, it’s hard to know whether valued species of fish and birds might become more abundant if menhaden catches were more restricted.
A recently released paper by Houde, Tom Miller at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, and Andre Buchheister, now at Humboldt University, outlines their findings — based on computer modeling — that fishing on menhaden can take a toll on some of the bigger fish, although not bluefish.
Ware said there are several alternative fishing guidelines the commission will vote on that for the first time would begin to regulate menhaden catches based on the needs of the ecosystem.
For the commercial fishing industry, though, the jobs that involve processing menhaden are important to preserve. Omega Protein Inc., which has a plant in Reedville, Va. — located on the aptly named Menhaden Road — consumes more than 100,000 tons of the catch each year. That represents nearly three quarters of the total catch of menhaden.They just need to share a little more with our finned and feathered friends.
Omega Protein employees sent a petition to the commission earlier this week, urging it to protect the jobs connected to catching and processing menhaden at their plant just off the Chesapeake, south of the Potomac River.
The Houston-based company issued a statement Friday calling for the fisheries commission to maintain current menhaden management measures until more research is done on the fishery. It noted that the fisheries commission’s own menhaden assessments have not found them overfished.