For the past several months now, East coast saltwater anglers have become accustomed to bad news regarding how the Federal government manages our favorite fish species. The inadequate management decisions surrounding striped bass have dominated most of the headlines for what seems like a year now. But during this same time, menhaden and bluefish were quietly developing problems of their own.
Menhaden are arguably the most important fish species in our oceans. This forage fish is consumed in mass by important recreational and commercial fish like striped bass, bluefish, and bluefin tuna, as well as sharks, whales, and sea birds. And bluefish, well they are one of the most fun fish in the Northeast: they’ll eat just about anything you throw at ’em and fight like hell–whats not to like? Well for one, most people claim they don’t make good table fare–I am not in this camp. However, despite being pegged as poor table fare, bluefish are overfished.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, last week, adopted new measures for recreational anglers to rebuild and conserve this awesome species. You see, for the past 20 years, each angler could legally keep 15 bluefish, and while many don’t keep 15, many do. And they had every right to, but today the species harvest levels had to be constrained. So, ASMFC adopted new regs for 2020: private recreational anglers can keep three bluefish and the for-hire fishermen can keep five. This is a step in the right direction, and how the fishery management process should look like!
What is going on with menhaden, you might ask. They are not overfished, nor experiencing overfishing. So, what’s all the fuss about? The state of Virginia–through Omega Protein a foreign company that is the only player in the menhaden reduction fishery–failed to implement ASMFC’s regulations for the Chesapeake Bay fishery and voluntarily exceeded their allowable catch limit. Consequently, ASMFC found Virginia out of compliance, which initiated a final decision by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Thankfully, and dare I say surprisingly, the Secretary agreed with ASMFC, thus enacting the moratorium.
For more info on both of these decisions, be sure to read some of the background articles our friends at the American Saltwater Guides Association–put simply, they know their *$&#. This is a victory for fish conservation and recreational fishing on the east coast. The Secretary could have easily rejected the non compliance finding and sided with special interests, but the Federal Government listened to biologists and fishermen that voiced their concerns! Let’s hope the government continues this practice–our fisheries may depend on it.
Credit Menhaden Defenders for the menhaden picture. Credit On The Water for the bluefish picture.
This article was written by Flylords’ Conservation Editor, Will Poston.