This blog comes from Phil Kline, oceans campaigner...

Menhaden? You might be asking yourself what the heck is a Menhaden. Menhaden are a small oily fish that is actually one of the most important fish in the sea. The tiny fish is a major prey species for Striped Bass, Bluefish, multiple bird species, whales and a host of other marine animals. Menhaden are keystone species and a major foundation of the coastal food web from New England to Florida.

It’s been said that if you eat a wild fish you’re eating Menhaden. Now you might ask why do they need help? That’s very simple. They have been seriously overfished and the population is currently less than 10% of their unfished level. This is the lowest population level ever recorded. The ecosystem is feeling this stress as all of the species dependant on Menhaden can’t find enough food from starving Striped Bass to Ospreys. Over the past 25 years under the management of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commisison (ASMFC), the Menhaden population has plummeted. The ASMFC has “managed” Menhaden for the benefit of one company, Omega Protein, which grinds them up for industrial uses like fertilizer and animal feed.  

Greenpeace has been very concerned about the impact depleted Menhaden populations are having on the coastal ecosystem for many years and has been working to change this. Recently a new coalition of concerned groups, The Menhaden Coalition has taken the lead on advocating for management changes to turn this around. Greenpeace is one of the few environmental groups that are a member of the Menhaden Coalition along with a host of recreational fishing organizations.

We want Menhaden managed for abundance so they can continue to fill their ecological role as food for all the marine wildlife we cherish not the profits of one company. This advocacy has been ongoing for decades only to fall upon deaf ears at the ASMFC.

On August 3, the ASMFC held a meeting in Alexandria, Virginia, where I gave oral testimony and for the first time they appear to be taking steps to turn this appalling situation around. They acknowledged their complete management failure while at the same time recognized what the public has been saying for many years, “Put the ecosystem first and manage for abundance not profits!” The ASMFC passed a motion that could lead to the rebuilding of Menhaden and be implemented in the spring of next year. To learn about the details go to http://www.SaveMenhaden.org.

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Here’s the statement from the Menhaden Coalition delivered to the ASMFC at yesterday’s meeting:

Statement to ASMFC on Behalf of the Menhaden Coalition  8/3/10

Mr. Chairman, distinguished commissioners:

I’m Jerry Benson, and I’m speaking on behalf of 34 organizations whose members are alarmed at the precipitous decline in the population of Atlantic menhaden. These 34 organizations represent over 545,000 members. They consist of anglers, conservationists, concerned citizens, and businesses... both large and small.

According to the ASMFC’s latest assessment, the coastal population of menhaden has declined 88% in the last 25 years to its lowest point in over 50 years. Many researchers have expressed concern that such a profound reduction in a key forage stock threatens the ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic. In addition to the fish, bird, and marine mammals that rely on menhaden for survival, how many other species are impacted as a result of predators being forced to turn to alternative prey? Our marine resources do not exist in a vacuum. Their interdependencies must be acknowledged and accounted for through multi-species fisheries management.

Many believe that Striped Bass is one of the species already adversely impacted by the lack of Menhaden. This places at risk coastwide recreational and commercial fisheries, which contribute thousands of jobs to the economy.

Those of you in this room share a profound responsibility. You hold in your hands the future of vast and vital public resources. Unfortunately the story of fisheries management has not always been a happy one. Not because managers did not have the facts needed to manage, but because they lacked the will to act.

Unfortunately for the resources, and the public, the penalty for inaction has usually proven to be much more costly than the price of timely action.

We implore you not to allow time-consuming processes to stand in the way of protecting the public’s marine resources. We ask that you take expedited action to restore the depleted population of Atlantic menhaden to a level consistent with the needs of the ecosystems.

Thank you.