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Aug 28 2008

New Panel to Look Into “Ecological” Management of Menhaden

Striped Bass Diet Menhaden Chesapeake BayLast week at their 3-day summer meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) took important steps toward improving management of menhaden, river herring and American shad – species that are particularly important as prey for striped bass and numerous other predators.In a public statement at the start of the August 20th meeting, NCMC president Ken Hinman reminded the ASMFC Atlantic Menhaden Management Board that we are now halfway through the five-year cap on menhaden harvest in Chesapeake Bay, that ASMFC-requested research is underway looking into the status of menhaden as a forage fish, and that a new stock assessment will be performed in 2009. “The ball you’ve handed the scientists is about to be tossed back into your court,” Hinman said. “The Board needs to begin now figuring out how it’s going to use the available information to implement a new management regime when the present one expires in 2010.”

After a number of Commissioners shared their concern that the move to an ecosystem-based approach to managing the menhaden fishery had “lost momentum,” (which perplexes me that commissioners act on momentum vs. a smart way to manage fish populations) the Board accepted NCMC’s recommendation to appoint a Working Group to develop ecological reference points – e.g., target population size, age structure, and set-aside for predators – by the completion of next year’s stock assessment. ASMFC staff were directed to identify participants, including scientists and managers with experience in ecosystem-based management, and develop a work plan by the Commission’s next meeting, in October 2008.

Commission Also Prioritizes Investigating At-Sea Bycatch for River Herring and Shad Recovery

The following day during the meeting of the ASMFC Shad and River Herring Management Board, a draft river herring amendment was approved for public review that included strong options for regulating bycatch in other fisheries, both in state and federal waters, with emphasis placed on bycatch limits, mandatory reporting, and monitoring programs that allow for reliable estimation. At-sea bycatch is a prime suspect in the decline of both alewives and blueback herring. Landings of these species have fallen by 90% in the last twenty years, coinciding with a rise in mid-water trawling for sea herring and Atlantic mackerel.

Similar options to address bycatch were chosen for an American shad amendment, which is being developed in response to the grim findings of a 2007 stock assessment. “I am greatly encouraged that the Board recognized that at-sea bycatch is also a major threat to American shad stocks, which like river herring are at historic lows. The Board voted 17-1 to include recommendations from both the stock assessment team and the advisory panel (AP) that called for quantifying bycatch and employing observer coverage to verify reporting,” said NCMC Executive Director Pam Lyons Gromen who serves on the Shad and River Herring AP and was present at the Board meeting. The AP also recommended research to identify the major predators of shad in order to quantify consumption, information which is needed for managers to ensure that enough shad is left in the water to fulfill their role as prey. The draft shad amendment is scheduled to be released for public review in November.

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