In advance of the November 13th Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) meeting, Omega Protein has reiterated its support for Atlantic menhaden ecological reference points, but maintains that they must be menhaden-specific and based on peer-reviewed science. For that reason, the Company supports maintaining current menhaden management measures until fisheries scientists finish their ongoing work on menhaden-specific reference points.
\"As long as fisheries managers have been talking about ecological reference points, we have been supportive of them,\" said Ben Landry, Omega Protein\'s Director of Public Affairs. \"But we have always argued that these reference points must be specific to menhaden, and based on peer-reviewed science. They can\'t be rushed or based on overly broad or generic rules of thumb.\"
Next week, the ASMFC\'s Menhaden Management Board will vote on Amendment 3 to the Atlantic Menhaden Interstate Fishery Management Plan. Amendment 3 will determine whether or not the ASMFC adopts interim ecological reference points. These interim reference points would dramatically reduce the coastwide menhaden harvest, according to a Menhaden Technical Committee analysis and the governing management philosophy for menhaden. Amendment 3 will also set the 2018 quota, and determine how that quota is allocated among the states.
It is important to note that Atlantic menhaden are not overfished nor is overfishing occurring, according to the ASMFC\'s two most recent stock assessments. Omega Protein maintains that waiting the two years to complete the menhaden-specific reference points poses no threat to the species\' population.
On the issue of reference points, Omega Protein supports Option B, which continues current management until the ASMFC\'s Biological Ecological Reference Point (BERP) Working Group finishes developing a menhaden-specific model. Omega Protein also supports increasing the quota based on the strong health of the menhaden population, and determining allocation among the states only after the ASMFC decides on the total quota.
Recent studies have challenged the effectiveness of \"rule of thumb\" approaches to managing forage fish like menhaden, including an approach advocated by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force. In 2012, the Lenfest Task Force argued for an approach that would cut most forage fish catch rates by 50 to 80 percent. When presented to the Menhaden Technical Committee, the committee came to the consensus that this approach does not apply or work for menhaden management.
In April, a new study authored by a team of respected fisheries scientists from around the world called into question the Lenfest advice, and recommended a more nuanced management approach. The lead author of that study, Dr. Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, testified before the U.S. Senate last month that fisheries managers \"can do better than a one-size-fits-all\" approach to managing forage fish.
Dr. Hilborn echoed this point in a recent interview, saying, \"It\'s very clear that there really are no applicable rules of thumb, that every system is independent [and] behaves differently, and we need to have the rules for each individual forage fish fishery determined by looking at the specifics of that case.\"
In 2016, the Menhaden Technical Committee found that the Atlantic menhaden quota could be increased by up to 40 percent without creating any threat of overfishing. And many states have expressed a desire for a higher menhaden quota. Omega Protein supports increasing the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to at least the levels that were in place before precautionary 20 percent cuts were made by the ASMFC in 2012.