Atlantic Menhaden Fishery Gets Lowest Possible Grade

A report released this week by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership gives the Atlantic menhaden fishery a grade of “C,” the lowest score.

The report analyzed reduction fisheries in the Atlantic and South America, and graded them in five different categories, including precautionary management, how well fisheries managers follow science advice, whether fishermen comply with regulations.

Reduction fisheries target mackerel, herring, anchoveta, and other forage fish like menhaden, which form the base of the ocean food web. In 2010 alone, 11 million metric tons of forage fish from the Atlantic and South America were transformed into industrial products such as fish oil and fishmeal for aquaculture. Seven of the top ten fisheries in the world target forage species.

According to the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, fishery managers are following scientific advice, and fishermen are complying with regulations in many of these fisheries.

However, the fishing mortality for Atlantic menhaden was three times above the target level, and “better progress [is] needed,” the report stated. Atlantic menhaden “has not been effectively managed and significant improvements are required.”

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) determined last year that menhaden are subject to overfishing, and the Commission implemented new reference points for judging the health of the stock. However, the agency has yet to reduce the menhaden harvest.

Even if the ASMFC makes a decision to cut back the harvest this year, the Commission will still be regulating the fish under the less-preferable “single species management” framework.

In order to effectively rebuild menhaden and other forage fish, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership suggests taking into account the health of entire ecosystems when making management decisions, not just that of the commercial stock.

This strategy, known as “ecosystem-based management,” should be implemented for the benefit of the fish and their natural environments, according to the report. Currently, none of the reduction fisheries in the Atlantic or South America are managed using ecosystem principles.

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership is a non-governmental organization involved in “seafood sustainability and marine and freshwater conservation.” The organization provides strategic and technical guidance to seafood suppliers and producers, according to the website, while working to rebuilding depleted fish stocks and reducing the environmental impacts of fishing and aquaculture.