Hearings set next week on draft menhaden regulations

The Atlantic coastal states of Maine through Florida have scheduled their hearings to gather public comment on Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden.

Hearings in Virginia will include:

• Potomac River Fisheries Commission, 6 p.m., Tuesday, September 19, Carpenter Building, 222 Taylor Street, Colonial Beach; contact: Martin Gary, 456-6935.

• Virginia Marine Resources Commission, 6 p.m., Wednesday, September 20, Northumberland High School, 201 Academic Lane, Heathsville; contact: Rob O’Reilly, 757-247-2247.

• Virginia Marine Resources Commission, 6 p.m., Thursday, September 21, 2600 Washington Avenue, 4th Floor, Newport News; contact: O’Reilly, 757-247-2247.

Draft Amendment 3 seeks to manage the menhaden resource in a way that balances menhaden’s ecological role as a prey species with the needs of all user groups, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

To this end, the Draft Amendment considers the use of ecosystem reference points (ERPs) to manage the resource and changes to the allocation method. In addition, it presents a suite of management options for quota transfers, quota rollovers, incidental catch, the episodic events set aside program and the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishery cap.

The 2015 Benchmark Stock Assessment Report identified the development of ERPs as a high priority for Atlantic menhaden management. Menhaden serve an important role in the marine ecosystem as prey for a variety of species including larger fish, birds and marine mammals. As a result, changes in the abundance of menhaden may impact the abundance and diversity of predator populations, particularly if the availability of other prey is limited.

ERPs provide a method to assess the status of menhaden within the broad ecosystem context. Draft Amendment 3 provides a variety of reference point options, including the continued development of menhaden-specific ERPs as well as the application of precautionary guidelines for forage fish species.

Draft Amendment 3 also considers changes to the allocation method given concerns that the current approach may not strike an appropriate balance between gear types and jurisdictions. Specifically, under the current allocation method, increases in the total allowable catch (TAC) result in limited benefits to small-scale fisheries and to several states. Furthermore, the current method may not provide a balance between the present needs of the fishery and future growth opportunities.

Draft Amendment 3 considers a range of allocation alternatives, including a dispositional quota (bait vs. reduction), fleet‐capacity quota (quota divided by gear type), jurisdictional quota, including a fixed minimum quota for each state and an allocation method based on the TAC. In addition, the document considers five allocation timeframes including 2009-11, 2012-16, 1985-2016, 1985-95, and a weighted approached which considers both historic and recent landings.

The Draft Amendment is available at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/AtlanticMenhadenDraftAmendment3_PublicComment.pdf, or www.asmfc.org, under Public Input. Fishermen and other interested groups are urged to provide input on the Draft Amendment either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. Public comment will be accepted until 5 p.m. on October 20 and should be forwarded to Megan Ware, FMP Coordinator, 1050 North Highland Street Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703-842-0741 (FAX) or at comments@asmfc.org (Subject line: Draft Amd. 3).

Final action on the Amendment, as well as specification of the 2018 TAC, is scheduled to occur on November 13 and 14 at the BWI Airport Marriott, 1743 West Nursery Road, Linthicum, Md.