Fishing Groups Object to “Sustainable” Stamp on Menhaden Fishery

Menhaden, or bunker, are an important food source for striped bass and other gamefish.

Fishing Groups Say Menhaden Purse-Seine Fishery Has Negative Impact on Striped Bass

Three recreational fishing groups filed a formal objection against the Marine Stewardship Council’s recommendation that Omega Protein should receive a certification of sustainability for its U.S. Atlantic menhaden (bunker) purse-seining operations. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Sportfishing Association, and Coastal Conservation Association signed onto the objection, filed with MSC’s leaders in the United Kingdom.

The industrial harvest of this important forage fish by a single foreign-owned company, Cooke Inc.’s Omega Protein, has a negative impact on striped bass and other sportfish that rely on menhaden for food. Earlier this month, MSC—a private international organization, not a government entity—signaled that it would likely put its stamp of approval on Omega’s menhaden reduction fishing operation, in which the oily baitfish is harvested and reduced into meal, pet food, and other products.

MSC reached this conclusion in spite of the fact that menhaden stocks are less than half of what they would be without industrial harvest, which currently suppresses the striped bass stocks on the East Coast by about 30 percent. Striped bass are the single most valuable marine recreational fishery in the country.

“This certification would put a blue ribbon on the practice of robbing sportfish of their forage base, even as striped bass numbers decline in the Atlantic,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. His organization collaborated with a legal team to object to MSC’s findings and rallied individual anglers to sign an open letter opposing the certification. “We felt it was important to put pressure on MSC, in every venue possible, not to do this. It is irresponsible to call Omega’s operation sustainable when it affects striped bass numbers and the recreational fishing economy.”

MSC’s published assessment indicates that the certification of sustainability would be granted on the condition that Omega reach certain milestones over four years—not because the operation can be considered sustainable now. Sportfishing groups objected to the rationale behind two of these conditions and the MSC’s overall method of assessing the stock’s status.

“The MSC certification undermines ten years of work by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to establish ecosystem reference points for Atlantic menhaden, a process expected to be concluded in the next year,” says Mike Leonard, vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “For sportfishing businesses on the East Coast, the stakes are very high going into the striped bass season. Menhaden are an important food source for striped bass, and the latest striped bass stock assessment shows a continued decline in spawning stock biomass. This is the worst possible time for MSC to make a misstep like this.”

Read the formal objection to MSC’s certification here.

The TRCP is asking anglers to sign an open letter to MSC here.

10 on “Fishing Groups Object to “Sustainable” Stamp on Menhaden Fishery

  1. Mark

    Where there is something to eat there is something to eat it. Where there is nothing to eat….

  2. CK

    If you cannot fit the amount of fish you net into your own boat, you are taking too many. Menhaden are important for lobstermen, seals, whales, cod, striped bass, freshwater bass during the spawning and rearing period, Atlantic mackerel, pollock, halibut, bluefin tuna, blue sharks, mako sharks, thresher sharks, hake, bluefish, king mackerel, etc…….every living thing in the Gulf of Maine watershed depends on the menhaden in some way. Listen to the biologists. They see the big picture. We need to allow harvesting, but at a reasonable rate. Purse seining is a grotesque means of destroying this important source of nutrition for the Gulf of Maine.

  3. Rich Gallacher

    Commercial harvest of bunker must be reduced. These fish belong feeding the ocean not pets or cornfields ! ! !

  4. Jeff Granville

    i’ve seen these boats out there fishing. And I use the term fishing very loosely they are simply harvesting in a huge indulgence, it is abusive to the Marine fisheries industry and particularly a great food source for the striped bass. I’m all for someone making a living in the Marine fisheries industry but the volumes of fish they are pulling out in the areas which they fish seem excessive and abusive. Well, that’s my two cents I hope change will be made straight bass are a wonderful recreational fish, and I certainly enjoyed myself.

  5. Joe Pete

    Humans…yuk! We’ve about killed off the Cod, ruined the herring spawning run, nearly killed off the Striped Bass once and working on twice. The great Salmon runs on the west coast are nearly extinct and we’re working hard on the sharks too. I just don’t think we will EVER learn.

  6. Germain cloutier

    There’s got to be a reduction in Menhaden harvesting if there is any chance of improving gamefish and whale populations. The fact that The big company down in VA basically doesn’t abide by laws or quotas and thinks that they should have increased quotas so they can vacuum all the fish out of the sea, that’s a huge problem.

  7. Erik

    You can’t label something ‘sustainable’ in an effort to encourage an extractive industry like the menhaden fishery into behaving sustainably in the future: corporations don’t work this way, they’ll just take the credit now and behave however they want. Even when a company adopts such a Corporate Social Responsibility commitment on their own, they are rarely abided by. At least that’s the case in the environmental realm.

  8. Jeffrey gasner

    Obviously the corporate fishing industry, as well as other big businesses have been attempting to co-op the term sustainability for some time. Clearly it’s just a ruses designed to fool the masses and increase their bottom line. And while manhaden is, and should mosts certainly be the poster child for rebuilding many of the overfished and struggling species, it’s not the only issue out there. If you look across the spectrum of all forage fish that sustain the larger gamefish that we love, you find the same thing. Gulf of Maine shrimp, gone. Gulf of Maine sea herring, severely depleted. River herring at historic lows across New England. Erchin fishery, done. Untill we are can address these issues over all I fear we’ll never rebuild fish stocks to anything close to sustainable. I hate to say it but unfortunately cod, salmon, bass, haddock, halibut wolffish, tuna and and all other game fish are doomed unless we address the issues of forage for those species. Build it and they will come.

  9. Neal Henderson

    It is time for all corporate & industrial fisheries to be phased out of the industry worldwide and go back to family owned single boat operations that fish for human consumption only.
    Only then will we see an improvement in our worldwide fish stocks.

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