Humpback whales feed amongst a colony of seabirds, seen from on board the Esperanza in the Unimak pass. Greenpeace is campaigning to save the Arctic from attempts by oil companies to exploit the regions resources for short term profit.
[caption id="attachment_12936" align="alignright" width="600" caption="Humpback whales like this one rely on the menhaden as a critical food source"][/caption]
If striped bass could tell us what they want for Christmas they would shout menhaden (and lots of them) along with bluefish, humpback whales and a long list of other marine species that depend on menhaden not only for their Christmas dinner but every day all year long.
For those of you new to the issue of menhaden management, menhaden are small oily fish, often called the most important fish in the sea because of the major role they play as food for a myriad of marine species from Florida to Maine. Over the past 25 years the abundance of menhaden has decreased by more than 85 percent due to excessive industrial fishing. The Atlantic States Marine Fish Commission (ASMFC) has facilitated this decline by never taking any meaningful management actions to stop menhadens decline. With the menhaden population now at the lowest levels ever measured striped bass, blue fish, sea birds, whales and a host of other marine wildlife simply do not have enough food for their populations to thrive. The overfishing and depletion of menhaden is causing extreme stress to the entire Eastern coastal ecosystem.
All is NOT lost - Yet:
[caption id="attachment_12937" align="alignright" width="300" caption="A factory fishing vessel in the Chesapeake Bay pumps a school of menhaden"][/caption]
After more than a decade of advocacy from a broad based coalition of recreational fishermen and environmentalists (including Greenpeace) the ASMFC has at long last developed a draft management. A plan that will stop the ongoing depletion of this important forage fish and actually start the process of rebuilding their abundance that is IF the ASMFC passes a strong management plan at their December meeting. I cant think of a better Christmas gift than having the ASMFC put dinner back on the table for all of our marine wildlife here in the coastal waters of our Atlantic coast. At their December meeting the ASMFC must adopt a plan that ends overfishing, sets an enforceable annual catch limit (as we now do for all of our federally managed fish) and reduces the current catch by at least half of the previous catch level. These actions will kick start menhadens recovery to levels of abundance that will allow menhaden to once again fill their historic role of being The Most Important Fish in the Sea.
Nows the time to let the ASMFC know that we expect them to live up to their management responsibility. At their December meeting the ASMFC must take the action needed to rebuild menhaden populations to levels of abundance that benefit not only our fish but the thousands of fishermen who depend on healthy oceans. I will personally deliver your message to the ASMFC in December, join me in letting the ASMFC know its their job to manage our fish responsibly and NOW is the time.
Phil is a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace USA. He is a recognized expert on oceans policy domestically and internationally, and has represented Greenpeace U.S. at International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meetings around the globe.