Good News For Stripers

Photo of a Menhaden bait fish
There was big interest over this little fish, the Menhaden, a baitfish in the Atlantic. (Brian Gratwicke photo)

For the first time in history, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to cut the commercial catch of the East coast’s favorite bait fish. Call them bunker, porgy, or menhaden, one of the least glamorous fish in the sea finally swam into the better management spotlight last November when the ASMFC took steps to protect Menhaden from overfishing.

The primary forage species for most predatory fish along the Atlantic coast, Menhaden have declined to the lowest level ever recorded, no thanks to commercial harvesters that take millions of pounds of this oily, industrial-grade fish for reduction to fishmeal and oil used in animal feed, pet food, and dietary supplements such as “fish oil” tablets.

The commission could reduce menhaden harvest by up to 37 percent once it implements full management measures. Menhaden stocks have declined 88 percent over the last 25 years and are at their lowest abundance in recorded history. For years, anglers and conservationists have called for better management although standards in place indicated healthy spawning stocks experiencing only “slight” overfishing.

But as menhaden began to disappear from parts of the coast, it became clear to angler organizations like the Coastal Conservation Association that something was wrong with the menhaden management. During the public comment period leading up to the vote, the ASMFC received almost 92,000 comments, the overwhelming majority of which were in favor of reductions in menhaden harvest by the greatest amount possible.

“It’s a great relief for anglers to know that managers have finally begun the process of rebuilding this critical species,” said Charles A. Witek III, chairman of the CCA’s Atlantic Fisheries Committee. “The turning point was finally having science in hand that showed what many of us have been saying for a long time. We still have work to do to ensure that menhaden are properly managed, but we are finally out of the starting blocks.” — Ryck Lydecker