This week an interstate fisheries commission released the results of the public comment period on a plan to manage Atlantic Menhaden, a small fish that is the cornerstone of the marine food web. More than 110,000 comments in favor of strong conservation measures were recorded, far exceeding the previous high of 90,000 recorded on behalf of Menhaden conservation a year ago.

Menhaden is often called the “Most Important Fish in the Sea” because of its importance to ocean ecology. The menhaden population is at its lowest point on record, negatively affecting the fish, marine mammals, and seabirds that rely on it for food. Unlike most fisheries on the East Coast, fishery managers have never placed a coast wide limit on the commercial menhaden catch.

Nearly all of the public comments demanded emergency cuts to current catch levels in order to end chronic over-exploitation of a fish so important to the health of marine life.

“The public outcry has been phenomenal,” said Capt. Paul Eidman, a fishing guide in New Jersey and the founder of the group Menhaden Defenders. “People understand that you can’t deplete a keystone species like menhaden without major ecological and economic consequences. It’s time to stand up to the special interests that exploit this resource for record profits. It’s time to put a responsible catch limit on this fishery.”

One year ago, in part because of the 90,000 comments submitted to fishery managers in November 2011, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Menhaden Management Board took a necessary first step of agreeing to set a catch limit for the fishery. This December 14th, the ASMFC will meet in Baltimore to decide the fate of menhaden by establishing the first target catch limit for the coast wide fishery. Recreational anglers are encouraged to attend this historic meeting.

Nearly half a billion pounds of menhaden, also known as bunker, are removed from the Atlantic ecosystem each year, making it the largest fishery on the East Coast. Recent scientific evidence points to the importance of leaving forage fish like menhaden in the ocean to account for the needs of predators.

Recreational anglers recognize the importance of menhaden as forage for many favorite target species. “Without abundant juvenile and adult bunker, the presence of striped bass, bluefish and weakfish is just not consistent enough for good fishing. This kills fishing and businesses like mine at the same time.” said Capt. Eidman. “Recreational Anglers from Maine to Florida are not willing to accept the continued exploitation of this vital forage fish at a time when their numbers are at rock bottom.”

Logo courtesy Menhaden Defenders

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