Friday, December 14, 2012

Board Votes to Reduce Menhaden Catch 20%

Baltimore, MD  --

At the fisheries meeting right now and happy to report the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has voted to reduce the Atlantic menhaden catch by 20%.  This is a good result, but of course it depends on who you ask, and the small victory came not so easily.

Catch reductions were as one commissioner said "where the rubber hits the road".  Until today, the menhaden fishery has largely been unregulated with hundreds of millions of fish being ground up for fishmeal every year.  This has lead to a steep decline in the little fish, which feeds many valuable species including striped bass.  

Some people here wanted a bigger catch reduction then the agreed 20%.  The science seemed to call for at least a 50% reduction.  Over 11,000 people asked for a 75% to even a moratorium during the public comment period.  The representatives from Virgina wanted no reduction at all given that most of the fishery's jobs are in their state. 

When the meeting began, a 25% catch reduction was the option up for vote.  After several motions moving the target around from a call to postpone the vote to 2014, to a 10% reduction, and at another point a 15% reduction, the final agreed catch reduction was 20%.  Although these are cold numbers, the motions were steeped in emotion.

It started with ardent comments by commission members that prompted smatterings of applause, which were soon squelched by the chairman.  The audience appeared to be a collection of environmentalists, fishermen, union members, media, and others.  Although there was no tally, applause seemed to follow comments in favor of menhaden conservation.  But the audience was antsy.

At one point, people vocally expressed their displeasure using a sound you'd more likely hear at a baseball game in the Bronx, NY.  Those were silenced with a threat by the chairman to clear the room.  People in uniforms showed up.  I thought they were Maryland State Police troopers but someone later said they were in fact state fisheries officers.

The highlight was the audience turning into a sea of yellow as people stood holding up large black and yellow signs that read "I'm from xx and I support menhaden conservation".  A glance through the audience and I saw many signs from Maryland, a surprisingly large number from Massachusetts, and most of the balance with New Jersey and New York.

After the historic vote, several people had the "we'll take it" attitude, and many called it a victory.

"The 25% reduction from the 2011 menhaden catch (a 20% reduction in catch over a three year average) is a good start. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life—anglers, business owners, birders, scientists, conservationists, and more—have long been urging this sort of action because they know what menhaden mean for their coastal ecosystem and economy. Today those voices were heard," said Peter Baker of the Pew Environment Group.

Although there was arguably a good result today, let's not forget that many people have been working very hard on all of this for years.  They have thought about this little fish and worked to save menhaden often with no direct result.  They have stood in the rain and gathered signatures or worked through the issues in myriad meetings for hours and hours.  They have toiled over menhaden, and the little fish, the oceans, and all of us are better for it.  They deserve the applause.

For me, I am grateful that such dedicated professionals are looking out for the health of the oceans.  Their work is absolutely inspiring and they represent another kind of victory.

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