Opinion split on bunker solutions
Dan Radel | Staff Writer
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) held their public comment hearing for menhaden in Toms River on Thursday, Sept. 29. Overall it was a colorful evening with two giant bunker billboards parked out front, fishermen from the commercial and recreational industries and one author who “gently” threw his book at the Commission. What was on the table were possible reductions in landings for menhaden, a decision the Commission will have to make in November, due to drops in the fish’s population. The ASMFC stated in their Addendum that the menhaden population has declined steadily and recruitment has been low since the last peak was observed in the early 1980s. The Addendum also stated that overfishing is occurring in the fishery.
At the meeting, the Commission recognized that 80 percent of menhaden landings are coming from the lone bunker reduction industry on the East Coast run by Omega Protein, Inc. Omega Protein is based in Houston, Texas, but their one reduction plant is on the Chesapeake Bay in Reedville, Va. The rest of the landings come from commercial bait boats and the recreational industry.
The ASMFC has pretty reliable statistics for both the reduction and commercial bait boats. However, the Commission stated it is least confident in its knowledge of landings coming from recreational fishermen.
That is understandable. In the reduction industry captains have to fill out a Captains Daily Fishing Log (CDFR) every time they set a purse seine. The CDFR gives the location of the fishing grounds and the poundage of each haul. The CDFRs are then handed over to the National Marine Fisheries Service for review.
Recreational fishermen are just snagging bunker with hooks or throwing a cast net for a bucket full of bunker to use to catch striped bass. The only statistics the AMFSC has on recreational anglers have come from dock surveys which the Commission recognizes has some major faults.
Between 1991 and 1993 the surveys indicated recreational fishers harvested nearly 700 tons of menhaden but caught none in 2009. There was a big zero for that year on the chart presented to the public at the meeting. The Commission noted, however, that the recreational take typically is very minimal, accounting for .04 percent of the total harvest in 2010 for example.
During the public comment period most of the recreational fishermen who spoke asked for reductions in landings of menhaden. Capt. Paul Eidmann, speaking on behalf of the organization Menhaden Defenders who brought the billboards, asked for the most possible reductions the ASMFC was considering, lowering the catch to 40 percent of the 2010 landings. “This is not about small boats, cast netters. It’s about big business and the reduction industry. The bunker population is at a low level and we can’t allow strip mining of the ocean,” Eidmann said.
Commercial fishermen from Cape May and the Garden State Seafood Association on the other hand asked for the status quo to remain until the next stock assessment in 2012, believing the call for reductions was premature and could hurt the families of fishermen economically.
The ASMFC also addressed the ecological importance of menhaden to the ecosystem, stating that menhaden’s importance as a filtering agent to cleanse the water was debatable. H. Bruce Franklin
who wrote The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden countered by calling the studies presented by the ASMFC falsifications.
“The fishery is fishing itself out of existence,” Franklin said and later threw a copy of his book on the table for the Commission to read.
Public comments can still be submitted until 5 p.m. Nov. 2, 2011
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