Connecticut Audbon Society

Our Letter Regarding the Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden

menhaden are listed as a prey species for many birds of high conservation priority, including Roseate Terns. Photo by Hilary Chambers/Carolinabirds.org

October 19, 2017

Re: Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden
Megan Ware, FMP Coordinator
1050 N. Highland St., Suite A – N
Arlington, VA 22201

Dear Ms. Ware:
Founded in 1898, the Connecticut Audubon Society is an independent organization that conserves Connecticut’s environment through science-based education and advocacy focused on the state’s bird populations and habitats.

Considering the massive ecological importance of menhaden to the biodiversity of the Long Island Sound and ocean waters we are hoping to see important changes to the way the Atlantic Menhaden fishery is managed. Our reasons follow.

Osprey Nation is Connecticut Audubon Society’s citizen science partnership, launched in the summer of 2014, to monitor the health of our state’s Ospreys. The goal of Osprey Nation is to create a long-term record of data that will give the conservation community a better understanding of the health of Connecticut’s Osprey population.

Over the last four years Connecticut Audubon Society has mapped over 600 Osprey nests in Connecticut and fielded over 287 volunteer monitors who have recorded over 500 Ospreys fledged in 2017 alone.

For the last three summers the Connecticut Audubon Society has sponsored ecologist and Osprey researcher Dr. Paul Spitzer’s ongoing work in the Connecticut River estuary. The aim of the research is monitoring the relationship between Osprey and menhaden. Dr. Spitzer has documented that the Ospreys’ diet is 95 percent to 100 percent menhaden. He says the story is much the same from Connecticut to Virginia, with menhaden-fueled Osprey nesting colonies experiencing a revival.

Cormorants are among the birds that rely on menhaden as a forage species. Great Cormorant photo by Mindy Hill.

Because a large share of the range-wide menhaden population is clustered in the mid-Atlantic region, harvests there have a significant effect on the population as a whole. In 2013 the ASMFC reduced the quota of commercial menhaden harvest by 20 percent. The recent recovery of Osprey populations along the East Coast is attributed to the renewed health of the Menhaden population.

However, intense fishing pressure is once again threatening to decrease the Menhaden biomass and the commercial quota for 2017 has been increased by about 6% from 2016.

Commercial interests are suggesting that the quota could be raised by up to 30% without harming the overall fishery, a suggestion we are strongly opposed to.

Clearly the continued abundance of menhaden is critical to the continued abundance of Ospreys.

Menhaden are not only critical to Osprey populations in Long Island Sound but provide an important food source and are at the bottom of the food chain for much of the biomass of Atlantic Coast waters from Florida to Maine.

Besides a major forage species for popular sport fishing species such as striped bass and bluefish, menhaden are responsible for the recent recovery of marine mammals such as harbor seals, humpback whales and porpoises in Long Island Sound.

Additionally, menhaden are listed as a prey species for many birds of high conservation priority, including many on the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Endangered and Threatened Species list as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service Birds of Conservation Concern. Among these are Least and Roseate Terns and Manx Shearwater.

Other bird species that rely on menhaden as a forage species include Brown Pelican, Royal Tern, Common Loon, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Sandwich Tern, and Herring Gull.

In connection with ASMFC Atlantic Menhaden Draft Amendment 3, we must implement ecologically based reference points (ERP’s) immediately upon the conclusion of the study in 2019. In the meantime we urge you to support Issue 2.6 Reference Points – Option E which is the most conservative approach to the commercial harvest of this species.

We must also maintain the Chesapeake Bay catch cap and maintain a 42% reduction in the amount of fish that can be taken from the bay.

With your support it is our hope that we can continue to restore our menhaden population and the resulting improvement of our marine ecosystem so necessary to the health of the planet.

Thank you for your kind consideration.

Sincerely,

Patrick M. Comins
Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

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