The adoption Wednesday of an “ecological reference point” for menhaden by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Advisory Board represents what board Chairman Spud Woodward has called “a paradigm shift in management,” one that looks beyond the abundance and death rate of a single species to take into account the role it plays within the broader marine ecosystem.
“Instead of looking at managing menhaden as a single species, we are managing menhaden based on its importance to the surrounding ecosystem,” said Chris Moore, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
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Fisheries traditionally have been managed based on key metrics like mortality, abundance and rate of reproduction.
But that “single species” approach “generally neglects predator needs,” said Andre Buchheister, a fisheries biologist at Humboldt State University in California who has led research funded by the Lenfest Ocean Program to develop an ecosystem model involving menhaden.
It's about time.
“The use of an ecosystem model …. that directly informs fisheries management in a tactical and tangible way represents a breakthrough in how we can manage a fish species while accounting for the ecological tradeoffs in the system,” he wrote in an email.
That’s important for menhaden, which serve as a significant food source for other fish. The sportfishing industry and many environmental groups have pointed in particular to the critical role menhaden play in supporting striped bass, which have long been below sustainable population levels identified by fisheries managers. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, for example, pointed to a study co-authored by Buchheister that showed the menhaden fishery contributing to major declines in striped bass.
“A healthy Atlantic menhaden stock, and quotas that account for the needs of predators, is the science-based management we look for to help support a healthy ecosystem and the sportfishing opportunities it provides,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association, in a statement.
The new approach passed by the board Wednesday brings that predator-prey relationship into decision-making by tying the ERP to maintenance of the striped bass population, which is uniquely sensitive to menhaden fluctuations.
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