Atlantic menhaden, also known as “pogies” or “bunkers,” are a small, boney, oily fish that play a critical role as forage for important recreational species including striped bass, summer flounder, bluefish and others. In a letter to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) urged the ASMFC to take the necessary steps to ensure a robust population of menhaden as they work to develop a menhaden-specific management model that accounts for the vital role this species plays in the population health of so many species of fish, marine mammals and birds along the Atlantic Coast.
The ASFMC currently manages menhaden as a single species, which is commercially harvested primarily for producing fish oil, fertilizer and pet foods. However, following a benchmark stock assessment in 2015, the ASMFC Menhaden Board recommended the development of Ecosystem Reference Points (ERPs), which will better account for the role this species plays in the ecosystem, including the impact to populations of recreationally important fish species.
While management of mixed-use fisheries like striped bass, bluefish, summer flounder, and others tends to focus primarily on controlling fishing mortality rates from both the commercial and recreational sectors, prey availability and suitable habitat are equally important drivers of fish population abundance and health, though they often receive little attention. The effort to establish ERP’s for Atlantic menhaden represents an important shift in the recognition of the critical role of menhaden to the health of our marine resources and coastal communities.
In the interim, as these ERPs are being developed, the ASMFC has the opportunity to implement a conservative management approach that will ensure menhaden continue the ecological services they provide until we better understand how to scientifically account for these services. Specifically, CSF supported Option E of Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden, with an option for any quota reductions to be phased in over the next few years. This option offers the best opportunity to put in place a scientifically sound management plan with targets and thresholds to ensure the menhaden population remains healthy while the Commission develops species-specific ecological reference points.
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