US reduces catch limit of 'most important fish in the sea'

Jeremy Hance
November 15, 2011

 Menhaden species in Chesapeake Bay: Brevoortia tyrannus. Photo by: Brian Gratwicke.
Menhaden species in Chesapeake Bay: Brevoortia tyrannus. Photo by: Brian Gratwicke.

The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has slashed the allowable catch of a tiny fish named menhaden by 37 percent by 2013. Dubbed the 'most important fish in the sea' by author H. Bruce Franklin, the menhaden plays a critical role in marine ecosystems as a food source for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, as well as helping to regulate the marine environment. However, due to overfishing the menhaden fish has dropped 92 percent from its historic population.

Around 80 percent of menhaden is caught by Omega Protein Inc., a company that grinds the tiny menhaden into fish meal for livestock, fertilizer, pet food, and omega-3 fish oil products. The company said it was 'disappointed' by the decision and warns it may have to close a plant due to the new catch limits.

However, not all fishermen were unhappy with the decision: some saw it as a way of preserving populations of target fish that feed on menhaden.

While ensuring catch for local fishermen and preserving the environment, the ASMFC also stated the the decision could help tourist industries in the region connected to birders and whale-watchers.

Peter Barker with the Pew Environment Group, which has fought for tougher limits on menhaden for years, called this 'a watershed moment'.

"Scientists have warned that having too few menhaden in the water could result in disastrous impacts on the fish and wildlife that eat them," Baker added.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (November 15, 2011).

US reduces catch limit of 'most important fish in the sea' .