Is Ten Years Too Long for Atlantic Menhaden?

atlantic ocean

Ever since the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted on May 2nd to consider waiting as long as 10 years to implement menhaden regulations, the question for many has been: What happened?

Things looked very different last November, when the ASMFC voted to reduce the amount of menhaden that could be harvested by the commercial fishery.

For the first time in its history, the ASMFC acknowledged the important role played by menhaden in the Atlantic ecosystem as a building block of the marine food web. At the time, the ASMFC’s decision was roundly praised (by the New York Times, among others).

But when the Commission met earlier this month to discuss the timeline for phasing in the cutbacks to the fishery, new dynamics emerged. ASMFC Commissioners debated one, three, five, and 10 years as goals for reaching the new target reference point for menhaden. (Ten years wasn’t originally on the table but Jack Travelstead, a Commissioner from Virginia, lobbied to have it included earlier this year).

When it came time to vote, Virginia supported including the 10-year option in the draft amendment (the state has a considerable menhaden fishery). Maryland voted to eliminate it. By a vote of 9 to 8, the 10-year alternative won approval.

The draft amendment will now go out for public comment with the three, five, and ten-year options. The ASMFC will decide on a final timeline later this year.

The positions of many states at the table are not as clear as those of Virginia and Maryland, so we decided to call Commissioners for clarification. Below are excerpts from interviews conducted by the Public Trust Project, in which we posed the question: where does your state stand on the 10-year timeframe?

Doug Grout, New Hampshire


“We were mostly in favor of the three and five. One year is the status quo – if they didn’t chose 3, 5, or 10, wouldn’t they have to implement in one year? These are just options to go out to public hearing. So you won’t have a state’s position with this vote, we’re just putting in options. My viewpoint is you put in a wide a range of options.”

Mark Gibson, Rhode Island


“One year was too aggressive a policy given the potential impacts to industry. Ten years is too long for me as well. All that is going to be out for public hearing. We’ll see where it ends up. I support moving very quickly but not to do it all in one year. We don’t think we can engage the regulatory process at home that quickly. Fishery is going to open tomorrow — the purse seine bait fishery in Narragansett Bay. We have a close relationship with the industry and their spotter pilots, we have a spotter pilot in our own employ, so we have detailed information corroborated by staff, as to when a threshold of 2 million pounds is reached [Editor’s Note: Rhode Island doesn’t open its commercial menhaden fishery until 2 million pounds of menhaden have entered Narragansett Bay.] We open and close the fishery at a moment’s notice, and we try to maintain a minimum biomass in the Bay. We think we’re way ahead of all states in that regard. We don’t want to see our advanced management program undercut by an aggressive management action.”

David Pierce, Massachusetts

ASMFC Meeting Testimony

“It looks stupid to go back to public comment with the same suite of options. It looks stupid. 3 and 5 makes sense. It’s very sensitive to public comment that we received and it’s a responsible time period for us to look at. We’re not bound by any particulars of the Magnuson Act. If things go wrong relative to rebuilding, we’re not obliged to suddenly cut fishing down to zero. I oppose the motion and support 3, 5 years. It limits the work of our Technical team and gives the public a clear indication that we listen to what is said at public hearings and we’ve acted.”

David Simpson, Connecticut

Emailed statement

“Public hearing documents should provide full opportunity for public comment and I believe keeping the 10 year target in for comment makes sense. Otherwise if 1 and 10 year options were removed we would be seeking input on a range of — what was it — 3-5 years. Hardly a rich range of alternatives. I asked the question of how long it took for MAFMC/ASMFC FMP for summer flounder to meet the F target (answer about 13 years) to make a point. Quota management under ASMFC exclusively without substantial federal involvement will be new to ASMFC and is a huge “lift” as people say today. Also consider how robust the assessment is and how often it can/will be updated.”

Jim Gilmore, New York


“The one-year timeline was unrealistic. The 10-year was way too long, and one year was way to short. The timeline that was more reasonable was 3 to 5 year range…It wouldn’t hurt to have the 10 year timeframe in there. Nobody agreed that we could ever do this in one year. The concern with longer timeframes is that no one would do anything about it for a number of years. Most of us want to do it within 3-5 years.”  

Peter Himchak, New Jersey


“We’ll pick either 3, 5, 10 when the annual meeting occurs in October to reach the target F. The threshold is the whole purpose of the action because we exceeded it in 2008. We have to rectify that immediately. To do the target and threshold in one year is ludicrous and could be rather crippling. That’s the whole basis for having something other than a one year option for the target. We’re not dragging it out. We don’t know yet, until we have the assessment update, we don’t know what the reduction would be for 2013. Once we know what the reduction is, then we’re going to have to decide whose going to pay for the reduction? Equal shares? 60% — 40%? We have the biggest bait fishery on the Atlantic coast right now. It would be self- serving, but from a management point of view I would like to see a fair distribution of reduction. There are two pieces of info the board needs, that I’m looking for: the Technical Committee has to weigh in on the reduction –  is it better to take it out of the bait fishery because they harvest older fish? [Do] two fish reduced in the reduction fishery equal one fish in the bait industry or vice versa? Once that comes in I’m also looking at the socio-economic impact. The committee on economic and social scientists are going to tell us how much the bait fishery and reduction fisheries are worth money. If there’s no biological benefit of coming up with a disproportionate reduction then it should be 50-50…I’m only a proxy for the director, I don’t vote my particular whim. These positions come down from much higher levels of state government than me. They come all the way down from the Governor…. again this was discussed [at] the board meeting that we would keep the three options in there and a lot would be dictated by the magnitude of the reduction. If the magnitude to get to reduction is small, why drag it out for ten years. But until we know what the extent of the reduction is, keep those options in there.”

Jeff Tinsman, Delaware


“Personally I voted to keep the 10-year option in, in order to see what kind of harvest quotas a longer rebuilding period would give us compared to shorter ones. At this stage, there’s no harm in keeping all the options in there. Although I think we did vote against the one-year option. Biology of the menhaden and the fact that we don’t have a strong recruit spawning stock relationship with that species makes that an unnecessarily punitive rebuilding schedule, and I don’t think that most people see the need to rebuild to the threshold in one year… A lot of the NGOs, like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, favored the quicker rebuilding schedule, and they were the ones that brought up the issue right at the end. I voted against that more on a procedural basis because the board had already considered it. I’m still not sure it’s even proper in Robert’s Rules of Order to vote on something that you’ve voted on already.”

Jack Travelstead, Virginia


“The ten-year timeline was supported by over a thousand public comments. We don’t know the results of the status of the stock since 2008. We will have that information in August. Seemed preliminary to eliminate that option. With the 10 year option, we may find it necessary given the impacts that necessary reductions might have on the fisheries that depend on menhaden. It’s not a referendum. We’re here to consider public comment, and don’t want to ignore it. There’s been some evidence that we’ve had better recruitment in recent years. Beyond that, I don’t know, that’s why I wanted to keep that option alive.”

Louis Daniel, North Carolina


“I wasn’t surprised that the one-year was taken out, I was surprised that the ten year stayed in. North Carolina threw a null vote in that. Both times, it tied. I don’t know that that’s really going to matter in the grand scheme of things, but it might. Right now, it seems like to me, and I can’t speak on behalf of the board, we need to get in there and implement the measures to end overfishing right away. That needs to happen as soon as we adopt the plan. The states have to have measures in place to end overfishing. There’s going to be some interest in trying to at least determine if what some of the scientists are telling us is correct..…Hard for me to imagine that leaving more fish in the water aren’t going to have a positive ecosystem effect. I can’t wrap my head around that being not true. That’s the only reason I think it was reasonable during the development of options for the amendment to go out to public comment to retain the ten year. It was done purely to provide an additional option. I’ll be shocked if anything other than the three to five is actually approved by the board…. I had a null. Other North Carolina guy voted to remove the ten-year, and I nulled it.”

Robert Boyles, South Carolina


“I had concern that a one year timeframe, if you look at a species like menhaden, it’s not an annual crop like a shrimp. A number of the states, primarily Virginia, were saying this one-year thing is completely unworkable, that the dislocation will be impractical. There was a lot of discussion around eliminating the ten-year ramp down period, and we support the motion to eliminate that one as well. That one was a pretty close vote. Species like menhaden, the ecosystem component that’s important, coupled with where we stand with the industry, we think a 3 or 5 year was in keeping, but we did not prevail in that.”

Spud Woodward, Georgia


“We voted for eliminating the one-year timeframe, and leaving 10-year timeframe in for the public hearing process. I like to support as broad a range of options as possible for public hearings. Although from a practical standpoint, we need to deal with menhaden sooner rather than later.”

Aaron Podey, Florida


“I voted to leave the ten-year option on the table. Right now, these are just options to go out to public comment. It doesn’t mean the board will choose them.”

Steve Meyers, National Marine Fisheries Service

Emailed Statement

“NOAA Fisheries voted with the majority for Draft Amendment 2 to include three timeframe options — three, five, and ten years — for the transition from the current to the target fishing mortality rate on menhaden. It was important to NOAA Fisheries that the public had a range of measures on which to comment, and that the timeframe allow for coastal communities that depend on menhaden as bait fish for other fisheries have the chance to adjust to the impending change in supply. The ASMFC process, like all fisheries management processes in this country, is built to rely on sound science and to reflect the views of the public, and we are invested in the goal of helping deliver the maximum benefit of the nation’s living marine resources to the American people, to whom those resources belong.”

Jamie Geiger, Fish and Wildlife Service


“What we were doing as a board was approving something to go to another round of public hearings. We still are going to get another bite of this apple. The general public will have an opportunity to view a whole slew of options and we can look at this from a focused, reasonable approach, and try to make the best management decision for menhaden…My perspective should be to optimize options for conservation of management stocks. I wanted to see all the options stay in – one and ten. The general public needed to have an opportunity to weigh in. This is the whole purpose of having a public hearing document, so you can solicit every opinion out there. So that not one particular set of stakeholders feels disenfranchised… In reality, do I think a 10 year rebuilding process is too long? You betcha I do.”