One company that undermines striped bass populations in the Atlantic is paying to put a blue ribbon on its harmful practices
Reduction fishing is the practice of “reducing” huge numbers of fish into oil and meal to be used in other products—primarily feed for other animals, like pets and farmed salmon. Perhaps it’s not a widely known term because reduction fishing is banned in states up and down the east coast, for decades in some places.
In fact, Virginia is the only state that continues to permit the last holdout of the reduction fishing industry in the Atlantic—a single company called Omega Protein, part of the Canadian-owned Cooke Inc.—to continue to fish for menhaden in this way.
The irony of taking forage fish out of the water that would naturally feed most of our ocean predators and grinding it up to feed farmed fish is not lost on anyone. And you don’t have to be a fisherman to understand that when you suck up the fish at the bottom of the food chain, everything else suffers. So, it should be no surprise that removing large quantities of menhaden has had a negative impact on striped bass fishing.
The menhaden reduction fishing industry accounts for 80 percent of the coastwide catch of these important forage fish. At this level of menhaden harvest, the striped bass population has declined by as much as 30 percent. In fact, the latest stock assessment is likely to show that striped bass are overfished.
Despite perpetuating an antiquated practice that reduces biomass of other fish species in the Atlantic, Omega Protein has applied to have the menhaden fishery certified as “sustainable” by the Marine Stewardship Council, a private international institution. This certification is strictly a pay-to-play arrangement, and it could successfully put a blue ribbon on fishing practices that rob anglers of our sportfishing opportunities. MSC does not even know how many predators rely on menhaden for food to determine if the fishery can legitimately be considered sustainable. Nobody does.
Now, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission—the multi-state agency that sets catch limits on menhaden—is working to get to the bottom of this key question, largely because of the recent outcry from sportsmen and women about the impacts of reduction fishing on sportfish populations.
Since November 2017, the ASMFC has had a scientific team working on a model to account for menhaden’s critical role to sportfish like striped bass and the broader ecosystem. And the truth is that no one can certify that the menhaden fishery is “sustainable” until that question is answered.
But it’s likely that MSC will grant the certification, despite publishing in its own report that the health of the striped bass population is directly linked to menhaden. (They also solicited public feedback as part of their determination, which could be overwhelming.)
Instead of certifying that the Atlantic menhaden fishery as sustainable, MSC should be calling on the industry to substantially reduce its catch, so that predators like striped bass don’t take a hit from the removal of 30 percent of their forage base. Further, Congress should put a stop to reduction fishing in the federal waters of the Atlantic, at least until striped bass have recovered.
In the meantime, we’ll do whatever we can to support the fisheries managers at the ASMFC in their efforts to analyze the actual impacts of reduction fishing of menhaden.
Top photo by Stephan Lowy
5 Responses to “Certification is Misleading PR Strategy for Destructive Menhaden Fishery”
Reduction fishing is destroying rockfish populations. Stop it now before it’s too late.
In New Jersey we’ve led the fight against reduction boats. Groups like Hudson River Fishermens Assn., Jersey Coast Anglers Assn., Clean Ocean Action, American Littoral Society fought for years to both end the reduction fishery AND ensure the Striped Bass were classified as a game species ONLY. As a result, coastal NJ has some of the best striper fishing in America. Don’t take my word for it – Salt Water Angler magazine regulalry lists us as THE place for prime striper action. Our fellow sportsmen in VA MAST step up and do what the rest of us have done from Maine to Florida: END commercial explotation of Menhaden!
I am a third generation Menhaden Fisherman and have been fishing the East Coast for well over 37 years. I am out on the Coastal waters 5-6 days a week from May to December.There are more Menhaden up and down the Coast and in the inland waters than I have ever seen. This is just another attempt to put a Commercial Industry out of business.The Menhaden Reduction Industry is one of the most closely regulated fishery in the US in not the World.
MSC is a marketing company, they receive 15 million from Omega Protein for the stamp. I met with SAI certification company that MSC uses to do their process. A public and transparent meeting was 3 SAI employees and 3 Sierra Club in a coffee shop by my house. I asked the SAI Certification group a few fundamental questions. 1-Do you take in account the 100 million pounds of bi-catch-answer from SAI-NO. 2-Do you get on the boats and watch them fish?-answer from SAI-NO. 3 Do you take in account the 170 Dolphin killed every year by menhaden boats? NO do not. 4. Are you going to certify them? yes for 5 percent of the annual Gross sales. Which comes to 15 million annually for the stamp. It is deception of the conscience purchasing public.
Not only is this terrible that it is being allowed in Virginia, but these boats from this company took 5 million pounds of menhaden from NY and NJ waters this past season! You could walk on the numerous pods of menhaden before they came in, after they took the menhaden, you didn’t see any for the rest of the season. I can not fathom why they are being allowed to do this…. Pure Greed!