FFI Encourages Management of Atlantic Menhaden - Blog (Retired)
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FFI Encourages Management of Atlantic Menhaden

Posted on 10/3/2017 by Kat Mulqueen in Public Policies

Make your voice heard. Atlantic Menhaden, a.k.a. bunker, are a keystone species for marine life in the Atlantic.


Atlantic Menhaden, a.k.a. bunker, are a keystone species for marine life in the Atlantic.  The commercial harvest of menhaden is as a “reduction” fishery, the fish are ground up and sold for livestock feed, pet food, paint, cosmetics and fish oil supplements. The reduction use accounts for 80% of the catch. An additional 20% is used as bait for lobster, crab and recreational fisherman. Virginia is the only state where “reduction” fishing is still allowed.

Historically, the annual runs of menhaden were heralded in fishing villages up and down the East Coast. They were valuable as fertilizer for crops. When the whaling industry declined, menhaden oil became as a substitute lubricant for whale oil.  With its increased use as a reduction fishery, the menhaden population plummeted.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) regulates commercial fisheries from the coast to 3 miles offshore.  The ASMFC recognized the dramatic decline in the Chesapeake Bay striped bass population in 2006 and imposed restrictions on this species as well as the reduction menhaden fishery. The 2011 menhaden stock assessment indicated a further decline and in 2012 to rebuild the menhaden stock the Commission approved a management plan to rebuild menhaden stocks (Amendment 2) for the menhaden stock.

The ASMFC is now considering proposed options for further revision (Amendment 3) of an Interstate Fisheries Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden (Plan). Option E of that Plan proposes management of menhaden by an Ecosystems Reference Point (ERP). Fly Fishers International (FFI) has partnered with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership by endorsing a letter to each ASMFC Governor encouraging them to adopt Option E of Amendment 3 as the Preferred Option for best long-term management of Atlantic Menhaden.

What are the issues

There are 2 key issues related to the current menhaden management plan.

  1. The establishment of an eco-system reference point (ERP) for a keystone species.
  2. The establishment of an interim management plan that will continue until an ERP can be established.

The method of calculating a fish population involves two basic concepts. One, how many fish die or are removed by commercial or recreational industry and two, how many fish are replaced by the breeding stock. Counting the fish in the ocean (biomass) is the responsibility of the Technical Committee of the ASMFC. They review and conduct independent surveys and using formulas based on those results are able to create “best estimates” of the species biomass and how much biomass can be safely removed before decreasing the population to a level below its sustainability. The results are called the single-species reference points.

However, one species does not exist in a vacuum. The interaction of species especially a keystone forage and prey species such as the menhaden need to be measured in the context of the ecology of the species. This concept is known as the ecological reference points.  The establishment and use of ERP in a management plan is unprecedented in fisheries management and would provide the Commission with the best scientific data to be used in the management of this and other species.

The technical committee has stated they can calculate the ERP however it may take them several years to develop the appropriate computer modeling.

To preserve the healthy stock of menhaden, several options have been proposed in Amendment 3. These are:

  1. Continue a species-specific assessment, i.e. maintain the status quo. (Option A)
  2. Accept the concept of ERP for menhaden, but continue the same management plan until the Technical Committee develops the ERP. (Option B, C and D in various forms)
  3. Accept the concept of ERP, but use a management plan that requires 75% of the current biomass remain (25% of the population would be available for commercial catch) but if the biomass falls below 40%, the fishery would be closed. (Option E)


Option A does not support the best science and should not be considered at all.

Options B, C and D do support ESP as the best method for stock assessments. However these options still  allow for changing catch quotas which has been and will be challenged annually by the industry and since the ESP system may take as many as 5 or more years to complete there is no assurance the stock will not decrease again.

Option E is the preferred conservation option. It sets specific quotas which look at the needs of the fish that feed on the menhaden by ensuring a healthy unfished stock with the target of 75% of the current biomass.  Should the stock drop below 40% it would result in the immediate closure of the fishery.

What you can do

Fly Fishers International has partnered with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and has signed onto a letter supporting management of menhaden by ERP. The letter is being sent to all the ASMFC Governors recommending option E.

FFI members and friends can send individual email comments to comments@asmfc.org with the subject line to reference  “Draft Am 3”. Simply state that you are concerned for the long-term conservation of Atlantic menhaden, and urge each ASMFC Governor to approve Option E of Amendment A of the propose Plan for improved management of menhaden. These comments will become part of the public record. Written comments can also be sent to Megan Ware, FMP Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201

In addition Council and/or Chapter representatives and individuals can testify in person at one of many public hearings throughout the Atlantic coast. Here is a link to the public comment meetings.


Both the public comments and the written comments will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on October 20, 2017.

The full document can be found at