More to menhaden vote than meets the eye

Atlantic menhaden serve as roving filters, converting algae into energy and thus reducing nutrient loads in bays and covers. Atlantic menhaden serve as roving filters, converting algae into energy and thus reducing nutrient loads in bays and covers.

Atlantic menhaden serve as roving filters, converting algae into energy and thus reducing nutrient loads in bays and covers.

I spoke with Bob Ballou, assistant to the director of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM), and Rick Bellavance, president of the R.I. Party & Charter Boat Association, about the Dec. 14 Atlantic Slates Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) deliberations and votes on Amendment 2 concerning the management of Atlantic menhaden. Ballou and Bellavance, along with Bill McElroy, treasurer of the R.I. Lobstermen’s Association, represented Rhode Island at the ASMFC meeting.

“The Rhode Island delegation has one vote, so the three of us deliberate, come to a consensus and then cast our vote,” said Capt. Bellavance. “There were diverse opinions and proposals. Industry processors of Atlantic menhaden (primarily Omega Protein) were advocating for a 10 percent reduction and on the other extreme some environmental groups were advocating for a 50 percent reduction. We came to a consensus at 20 percent and ultimately cast our vote in favor of this reduction percentage.” Throughout the course of the meeting many voters were taken, some Bellavance said to facilitate discussion on the issue to ensure all points of view were heard.

Many in the recreational fishing community in Rhode Island were disappointed at the 20 percent reduction approved. “We were advocating for a 30 percent reduction and could not understand why the Rhode Island delegation was settling for less,” said Don Smith, representing the R.I. Salt Water Association.

“The meeting was noteworthy for a number of reasons,” said Bob Ballou of DEM:

• It resulted in the adoption of a first-ever coast-wide quota (total allowable catch, or TAC) for menhaden, reflecting the ASMFC’s commitment to end overfishing and achieve long-term protection and sustainability for this ecologically important species, and the people who depend on it.

• It resulted in a new coast-wide quota set at 80 percent of the average landings of menhaden over the three-year period of 2008 to 2011 (376 million pounds, down from 470 million).

• It resulted in a state-based allocation program based on the average percentage of each state’s landings over 2008 to 2011. Rhode Island will receive 0.02 percent (about 75,000 pounds).

Menhaden migrate in and out of Rhode Island waters on a regular basis and are an important component of the local marine ecosystem. The adoption of new coast-wide measures aimed at increasing protection of menhaden, with particular recognition of the important role they play as forage fish, is consistent with Rhode Island’s long-standing interests vis-à-vis sound conservation of marine fishery resources.

Rhode Island’s landings over the past 10 years have generally ranged from about 5,000 pounds to about 100,000 pounds, with an average of about 87,000 pounds. The vast majority of Rhode Island’s landings are taken by a handful of fish trap operators in the lower bay and along the southern coast.

For years Rhode Island has had a progressive menhaden protection program that primarily guards against localized depletion. It’s not affected by the new ASMFC action and is slated to remain in place in 2013 and thereafter.

Rhode Island will need to adopt new state regulations for 2013 to manage its new 75,000 pound state allocation. While this will likely involve the imposition of constraints on the fish trap operators, they will likely be modest, since the state’s allocation is only slightly less than average annual landings over the past few years.

Capt. Dave Monti has been fishing and shellfishing on Narragansett Bay for more than 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. Your fishing photos in jpeg form, stories, comments and questions are welcome. Visit Capt. Dave’s No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com or e-mail him at dmontifish@verizon.net.

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