Atlantic menhaden, often called "the most important fish in the sea," have reached a turning point.
These fish play a critical role in the marine food web as prey for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, whales, porpoises, seabirds, and other wildlife. But the essential role menhaden play in the marine ecosystem is now at risk.
By weight, menhaden are caught more than any other fish on the East Coast. Safe fishing targets for menhaden have been exceeded every year but one since 1955, with no corrective management action. The population is now less than 10 percent of its historic level.
As the menhaden population suffers, so do the coastal economies in more than a dozen states, where thousands of commercial and recreational fishing businesses rely on the predatory fish that depend on menhaden as a staple.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has taken a historic first step to restore the menhaden population by laying out a plan that could significantly increase the number left in the ocean, finally taking into account the needs of their predators.
Urge ASMFC to take action to restore menhaden to a level that can sustain healthy predators and a healthy marine environment.
I am concerned about the dwindling number of Atlantic menhaden and the impact that their disappearance has on the health of coastal environments and economies. Once abundant along the entire Eastern Seaboard, the menhaden population has reached an all-time low of less than 10 percent of its historic size.
As someone who values healthy and productive marine ecosystems, I strongly urge ASMFC to manage Atlantic menhaden with precaution. Menhaden are more than just a harvestable resource. They play a critical role in the marine food web as prey to numerous predators, many of which support valuable commercial and recreational fishing activities from Maine to Florida.
At its November meeting in Boston, ASMFC has a historic opportunity to change the status quo, protect menhaden from overfishing and restore the population to healthy levels. I urge you, as a public official entrusted with responsible stewardship of marine resources, to support:
* Immediate action to rebuild the menhaden resource. Delaying and maintaining the status quo have been tried, have failed, and are not scientifically defensible.
* Management measures that adhere to the best scientific guidance and allow menhaden stocks to rebuild to at least four times their current size.
* Initiation of an action plan to give fishery managers the tools they need to ensure successful rebuilding, including consideration of a coastwide catch limit.
Commercial fishing should not jeopardize the health of marine ecosystems, recreational fishing opportunities or public resources.
Thank you for your consideration of my comments as the Commission considers how to address the menhaden crisis.
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