Has the Atlantic Fisheries Commission Industry-Proofed its Scientific Process?: Live Blog


Scientists in charge of determining how many menhaden are in the Atlantic Ocean will convene this week under a fresh set of public participation guidelines. The new rules outline clear procedures for hearing the opinions of the fishing industry and other interest groups, without undue influence over the scientific process conducted by government researchers.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the regulatory agency that manages menhaden and sets policy for the fishery, is in charge of conducting the official stock assessment for menhaden, which determines the size of the menhaden population and whether those fish are likely to spawn as expected. State and federal fisheries scientists are expected to make significant strides towards developing the assessment at a two-day workshop on June 26-27 in Hanover, Maryland.

Before the ASMFC finalized the new guidelines last month, the Commission had not updated its public guidance document in 11 years — and it showed. At a menhaden stock assessment workshop last year, industry consultants were allowed to interject their own opinions and steer the discussion.

“There are many examples of technical committee meetings that didn’t go as well as we had hoped,” said ASMFC director Bob Beale. “There were examples of science being submitted at various stages in the [stock] assessment process. If industry or another group brings forward science and it isn’t accepted, this new document takes away the possibility for the perception of inequality.”

The new guidelines allow public comment only in designated blocks of time, rather than throughout the process. They also require outside research to be approved by the ASMFC’s management boards before the scientific committees review the material, ostensibly safeguarding scientists from the political decision-making of fishery management.

The menhaden stock assessment process this year carries a lot of weight.

Ever since the ASMFC voted to reduce the amount of fishing allowed on Atlantic menhaden in December 2012, industry representatives have been waiting impatiently for the results of the next stock assessment, which will estimate how many menhaden are in the Atlantic Ocean. An industry press release called the 2014 stock assessment “critical,” and reiterated their belief that the most recent stock assessment, completed in 2012, was “deeply flawed.”

Menhaden, known as the most important fish in the sea because they feed dozens of marine predators, have been subject to overfishing for the better part of a century. To relieve pressure on wild menhaden, the ASMFC set a limit on fishing and reduced the allowable harvest of menhaden by 20 percent from previous levels.

Whether that limit will stand depends on the results of the next stock assessment, scheduled for completion in 2014. If the menhaden population is larger than previous estimates suggest, regulators could decide to change the current fishing limit — or even abandon it altogether.

The Public Trust Project will be live-blogging the proceedings of the stock assessment meeting this week. Tune in as we provide real-time commentary from Hanover, Maryland, and document whether the public participation guidelines are being implemented. Watch this space for updates, or  follow us on Twitter, beginning at 1 p m on June 26th.

Jun 26, 2013 11:08 am:

Live-blogging of the Atlantic menhaden technical committee begins today at 1 pm from Hanover, Maryland. Stay tuned for updates on the most important fish in the sea!

Jun 26, 2013 11:26 am:

To read a copy of the new Atlantic Fisheries Commission public participation guidelines, click here: http://www.asmfc.org/publications/ASMFC_CommitteeGuidanceAssessmentProcess_May2013.pdf

Jun 26, 2013 1:18 pm:

Micah Dean, Massachusetts: The purpose of today’s workshop is to evaluate the fishery independent surveys we have.

Jun 26, 2013 1:19 pm:

Introductions: Scientists here from MA, NJ, ME, DE, NC, GA, RI, MD, FL. And Rep from US FWS.

Jun 26, 2013 1:29 pm:

Scientists are weighing the surveys from different states. Some states collect data on #menhaden from beach seine surveys, or bottom trawl surveys conducted by gov researchers.

Jun 26, 2013 1:31 pm:

In Mass, researchers report that 60-70 percent of their beach seine surveys turn up zero menhaden. Off Cape Cod, they string nets but don’t catch menhaden in summer.

Jun 26, 2013 1:33 pm:

Because of this, MA scientist wonders whether data from the state should be included in any official calculation of adult or young menhaden.

Jun 26, 2013 1:34 pm:

Rhode Island scientist reports that they have the same problem. #fishycalculation

Jun 26, 2013 1:37 pm:

Connecticut does 200 tows per year (in search of menhaden), and reports that this data could be used to measure both adult and juvenile menhaden.

Jun 26, 2013 1:39 pm:

Connecticut reports catching mostly adult fish, a very low amount of menhaden, particularly in recent years. Their survey covers the whole of Long Island Sound.

Jun 26, 2013 1:44 pm:

NY scientist: we conduct 3 surveys. Mostly zero menhaden when we do trawls in West long island sound + bottom trawl.

Jun 26, 2013 1:45 pm:

NY: However, in our Lower Hudson survey, we can sometimes catch up to 50,000 fish in a single tow.

Jun 26, 2013 1:46 pm:

NY: Since 2000, we have been collecting age information on those fish in the lower Hudson.

Jun 26, 2013 1:48 pm:

Others recommend NY look at that data, it could be useful the model: are there any seasonal patterns? What percentage of tows come up with fish?

Jun 26, 2013 1:57 pm:

NJ: We did 450 tows in May/June in Delaware Bay. 350 of those came up with no menhaden. In one tow we caught 1300 fish.

Jun 26, 2013 2:09 pm:

NJ: We also do an ocean trawl survey, 5x per year since 1988. We get most fish in October, August. Some in January.

Jun 26, 2013 2:16 pm:

NJ: We have in the past included the Delaware River survey in the #menhaden model. It has most fish, longest time series, and most consistent catches.

Jun 26, 2013 2:31 pm:

Reminder by Mike Waine and Matt Cieri: we are just casting a wide net here. All this data needs further analysis at the data workshop meeting. Prioritizes indices.

Jun 26, 2013 2:42 pm:

DE: We do three menhaden surveys. A “Young of the year” midwater trawl in the tributaries from May thru September. There’s a lot of fluctuation in abundance of fish.

Jun 26, 2013 2:43 pm:

Delaware: We also do an Adult menhaden trawl in the DE Bay. That one rarely catches menhaden. When it does it’s accidental.

Jun 26, 2013 2:44 pm:

DE: Third is a juvenile trawl in the DE Bay. It doesn’t go back far. The adult trawl goes back to 1967. Rich dataset but abundance is all over the place.

Jun 26, 2013 2:46 pm:

Micah Dean, Mass: These seem like promising datasets from Delaware. That long time series has a lot of positive tows.

Jun 26, 2013 2:48 pm:

Menhaden don’t school at the bottom of seafloor, but closer to surface. When researchers trawl the seabed for fish, they only get menhaden as they pick the nets up.

Jun 26, 2013 2:49 pm:

DE: We usually catch about 10 to 20 menhaden. Maybe 30 at the month.

Jun 26, 2013 3:32 pm:

Maryland has their striped bass juvenile survey, started in 1954, which helps catch menhaden as well for the purposes of studying the population.

Jun 26, 2013 3:34 pm:

Maryland also has their Striped bass spring gillnet survey, since 1965. Also catches menhaden.

Jun 26, 2013 3:53 pm:

Menhaden scientists are discussing the importance of keeping many of these surveys under consideration for future data workshop. #onthetable #dataoverload

Jun 26, 2013 3:58 pm:

Matt Cieri from Maine and Amy Schuller from NOAA think the team should look at environmental variables for some surveys before the data workshop.

Jun 26, 2013 4:14 pm:

Micah Dean: NC had all kinds of gillnet surveys, and Menhaden was the number 1 species caught in all of them. Tens of thousands of menhaden a year.

Jun 26, 2013 4:15 pm:

Micah Dean: Seems like a huge dataset that we could leverage, but no one from North Carolina is here to walk us through it.

Jun 26, 2013 4:21 pm:

South Carolina has survey began in 2001. 5 survey strata, mostly in low salinities. Survey  targets red drum, flounder, striped bass.

Jun 26, 2013 4:21 pm:

South Carolina: When we do catch menhaden it’s usually less than 100 fish. Virtually all of these fish are juveniles.

Jun 26, 2013 4:30 pm:

SC: In our trammel net survey, we are seeing peak catches in June through October, suggesting fish are moving into higher salinity.

Jun 26, 2013 4:58 pm:

Georgia: We have a monthly ecological monitoring trawl survey that covers 6 sound systems in Georgia, from SC line to FL. In 2003, survey started to process all fish and habitat and invertebrates.

Jun 26, 2013 5:01 pm:

GA: 91 % of our menhaden catch from the survey are less than one year old fish.

Jun 26, 2013 5:33 pm:

Menhaden technical committee now discussing SEAMAP program, a South Atlantic survey program began in 1986, with priority species like menhaden and yellowfin.

Jun 26, 2013 5:34 pm:

SEAMAP runs from April thru November. Catches most menhaden in the spring, and has greatest success catching menhaden off of Georgia and Florida.

Jun 26, 2013 5:34 pm:

Everyone is surprised. #menhadendrama

Jun 27, 2013 8:51 am:

Matt Cierei, scientist from Maine, explains that the NMFS survey, which is fairly offshore, catches between one and 2.5 fish per tow.

Jun 27, 2013 8:52 am:

Cieri: Between 1 and 2.5 menhaden per tow is “pretty darn small.”

Jun 27, 2013 8:55 am:

Cieri: “We’re averaging something ridiculous like 8 menhaden per year.”

Jun 27, 2013 8:55 am:

We’re back here today at the menhaden technical committee meeting. Follow this page today, all day, for updates!

Jun 27, 2013 8:57 am:

Alexei Sharov, scientist from MD: I’m interested in the data, because this is the only coastwide survey that covers larger fish. And it goes back to the 60s.

Jun 27, 2013 8:59 am:

Matt from ME: The problem is that this is a bottom trawl survey, not great at catching menhaden.

Jun 27, 2013 10:16 am:

Hongsheng Bi is now presenting new research on estimating early mortality for reference points for Atlantic menhaden.

Jun 27, 2013 10:25 am:

Conclusions: Early mortality in menhaden may change in estuaries due to timing, coastal conditions, estuarine conditions


Jun 27, 2013 10:25 am:

Also, connectivity pathways between coastal waters and estuaries may have changed due to spawning locations or physical forcing.

Jun 27, 2013 10:28 am:

Researchers recommend incorporating into stock assessment a time varying reference point that takes enviro factors into account

Jun 27, 2013 11:02 am:

Menhaden scientists now discussing whether to use datasets from fish sucked into power plant cooling systems.

Jun 27, 2013 11:02 am:

Sometimes these fish are sampled by plants, depending on their permit. Often this data is not that useful for determining abundance.

Jun 27, 2013 11:07 am:

Micah Dean got weekly or monthly information on menhaden sucked into power plants in MA and RI. This data lines up with some other info they have collected.

Jun 27, 2013 11:09 am:

There are schools of menhaden living in thermal plumes of power plants in winter!

Jun 27, 2013 1:15 pm:

Menhaden scientists now have dozens of indices that could help measure menhaden population. Now they are deciding how to chose which to use.

Jun 27, 2013 1:21 pm:

They are thinking of forming a subcommittee to look at the raw data and standardize it across various states for use in the menhaden model.

Jun 27, 2013 1:59 pm:

The tagging data from decades ago the menhaden scientists are having digitized should be completed by late July.

Jun 27, 2013 1:59 pm:

Jenny Neslage: Full and complete workup of this data would likely be completed within two years. May not be used for this stock assessment.

Jun 27, 2013 2:06 pm:

Alexei Sharov, MD: Confusing. It was centrally positioned that this tagging data would be one of the datasets used in this assessment.

Jun 27, 2013 2:06 pm:

Amy Schueller, NOAA: We promised that ASMFC would not get a spatial model without the tagging data. We did not promise they will get a spatial model with the data.

Jun 27, 2013 2:08 pm:

Jenny Neslage: I think we should try to reproduce the results of those old papers on the menhaden tagging date (Dryfooz, 1973 and Nicholson, 1978).


Jun 27, 2013 2:09 pm:

Jenny NeSLAGE: Some of those papers are preliminary. I do no think we should use any of the rates coming out of those papers.

Jun 27, 2013 3:00 pm:

Committee is trying to figure out who will lead the analytical effort on the digitized tagging data. All are overcommitted! No one wants the job.

Jun 27, 2013 3:04 pm:

The story of overcommitted government scientists is unfolding before our eyes here.

Jun 27, 2013 3:04 pm:

They are floating the idea of volunteering a scientist who is not even here and who is already on three menhaden committees.

Jun 27, 2013 3:04 pm:

Mike Waine suggested maybe poaching someone from the striped bass tagging committee. #fishconflation

Jun 27, 2013 3:06 pm:

Josh from US Fish and Wildlife might help with tagging data. Alexei Sharov might help after Sept.

Jun 27, 2013 3:22 pm:

Public comment time!

Jun 27, 2013 3:23 pm:

Ron Lukens, Omega Protein: We are still working to get an aerial survey in place for this year, but we do not yet have the funding.

Jun 27, 2013 3:23 pm:

Lukens: We are working with NOAA and others at possibility of using drones with high res video to replace airplanes in aerial survey.

Jun 27, 2013 3:24 pm:

Jud Crawford, Pew: I would encourage the committee to take a serious look at the NMFS survey trawl that goes back to the 1960s.

Jun 27, 2013 3:25 pm:

Crawford: You do not have a lot of data that goes back that far. And it has been used by Atlantic herring and river herring scientists before.

Jun 27, 2013 3:25 pm:

That wraps up the menhaden technical committee meeting. Until next meeting, in August…adjourned!