Protecting Atlantic Menhaden

The Most Important Fish in the Sea

"Osprey with bunker (menhaden)" by Russ via Flickr

Atlantic Menhaden are a vital food source for many predators - other fish, marine mammals and coastal birds including Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Loons, Great Blue Herons and Cormorants all rely on the nutrient-rich fish for food. As filter feeders, menhaden also help control toxic algal blooms. Due to the high oil content of menhaden, they are typically considered unfit for human consumption. However, they are heavily fished for use in livestock feed and industrial products.

Audubon is working with the National Wildlife Foundation and local partners including Save The Bay and the RI Saltwater Anglers Association in advocating for sustainable management of Atlantic menhaden in Rhode Island waters. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) in the process of drafting Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden, which encompasses the next plan for coast wide management of the fish.

The ASMFC supports the development of menhaden-specific ecological reference points (ERPs) and has begun the scientific process to further establish them. ERPs consider the full ecological value of menhaden, recognizing that they are valuable as forage for other fish, marine mammals and birds.

Audubon is asking the ASMFC to adopt Interim ERPs immediately as part of Amendment 3 to ensure we have sufficient menhaden populations for birds and other predator species.

In addition to ERPs, Amendment 3 includes decisions on the fisheries coast-wide quota as well as quota allocation between states. At this point the Atlantic states allocation provides 85% of all the menhaden to Virginia, 11 % to New Jersey and the remaining 4 % is divided up among all of the remaining states from Maine to Florida. Rhode Island gets 0.02%, which is about what one commercial boat can land in one day of fishing. We support a more fair allocation of the menhaden catch if the ASMFC adopts interim ERPs to assure protection of the fishery.

The coast-wide quota is also important. The current quota is 200,000 metric tons. One company in Texas, Omega Protein, takes nearly 85% of these fish through boats that land in Virginia. Omega Protein produces fish oil and animal feed from the menhaden. Audubon does not support increasing the quota until the ASMFC adopts the interim ERP’s to ensure we have sufficient fish for birds, whales, striped bass, bluefish and other predator species. Audubon does not support increasing the coast-wide quota until interim ERPs are adopted and does support a more fair quota allocation of the menhaden catch to each Atlantic coastal state.