Atlantic Menhaden, the tiny fish that, two years ago, created big trouble between Chesapeake Bay environmentalists and commercial fishermen, is surfacing once more. Scientists have found new data that may prove there’s more of the fish than once thought.
Menhaden is eaten by fish and birds; used as bait by watermen and anglers, and rendered to make fish oil supplements. They travel up and down the coast, in and out of bays making it difficult for biologists to ensure they’re not being overfished.
In 2012, data indicated the fish were in trouble so regulators cut commercial harvests and fishermen lost jobs. But the data used was flawed. Robert Latour, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has been part of a team creating a better assessment tool.
“We kind of went back to the drawing board and really from ground zero just started the whole process all over again.”
Scientists found new and historical data, some dating back to the 1950s, from states along the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coast. Joseph Smith a research fishery biologist with NOAA said they collected a huge amount of information.
“We’ve literally beat the bushes among the states to find out what data was out there that the states might be holding that would help us to create these indexes of abundance.”
Preliminary results show a reverse in findings with a more robust population of fish. The new data could spark changes in quotas for commercial fisheries. Ben Landry, a spokesman for Omega Protein, the last fish reduction plant on the east coast, says more fish brings a new concern.
“Virginia catches the lion-share of the harvest – it gets about 85% of that quota on a coast-wide basis and I think there’s going to be a real effort by other states who have not traditionally caught a whole lot of menhaden to try and steal that allocation from Virginia.”
Next month in Alexandria, Virginia, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will officially release the benchmark assessment that uses the new model.