Menhaden Fishing Limits are Swimming in Controversy

Aug 5, 2016

A fish crucial to Chesapeake Bay crabbers and Virginia's omega-3 oil industry is proving to be one of the most controversial, as Atlantic fisheries managers struggled this week at their summer meeting to determine how much should be caught.

Menhaden, the tiny fish that travels in large schools up and down the East Coast and into the Chesapeake Bay, was once considered overfished. In 2014, new data showed much healthier stocks. But members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission representing Maine to Florida turned down or were split on motions that would increase catches up to 40 percent or keep the catch the same.

Adam Nowalski representing New Jersey underscored the frustration after a scientist's presentation.

Credit Associated Press

“Can you let us know when the last time every run you did for a species generated a zero percent chance of overfishing, and what was your last recollection of a management body taking management action on zero percent chance of overfishing?”

Omega Protein, the Houston-based company with a plant in Reedville, renders menhaden to make fish oil supplements and other products. Spokesman Ben Landry said the company was looking for a 20 percent increase so they could add another ship to their fleet of eight.

“It's a really divisive issue. The states that have active fisheries want to see an increase. States that don't have an increase have no incentive to see an increase, so they vote no. And unfortunately, it appears to be just about split down the middle so I don't know where this commission goes.”

Much of the indecision centers on a report due out next year that considers ecological impacts to other marine life and birds that rely on menhaden in their diet. Commissioners plan to try again at their annual meeting in October in Maine.