For immediate release -- Friday May 9, 08:
Slumping bunkers a threat to gamefish; moratorium should be on table
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A congressional hearing was held Thursday on a bill written by Congressman Jim Saxton that would impose a moratorium on commercial Atlantic menhaden fishing to shore up the populations of one of the most important fish in the sea.
The House Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee, of which Saxton is a senior member, met Thursday to review H.R. 3840, his bill to impose a partial moratorium on menhadden fishing while more research is conducted on the health of the fish population. Also discussed was another bill, H.R. 3841, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) which would impose an immediate five-year moratorium on menhaden fishing.
“Atlantic menhaden are a key piece of the Atlantic ecosystem, from Florida to Maine,” Saxton said at the hearing. “They serve as a vital link in the food chain, and are a primary source of food for striped bass, bluefish and weakfish, and are favored by seabirds like loons and ospreys.”
Saxton’s bill would establish a moratorium on the commercial reduction fishery for Atlantic menhaden in Atlantic coastal waters until a scientifically-determined catch level can be established that also considers the role of menhaden in the ecosystem. It would prohibit commercial Atlantic menhaden fishing in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone that extends 200 miles into the Atlantic Ocean from the coast.
The harvested “reduction fishery” menhadden are not used as human seafood. Fish are “reduced” in their entirety for other uses– their omega 3 oils are used for industrial purposes, agricultural fertilizer, or as feed for poultry and aquacultural processes, as well as in nutritional supplements. Rutgers University professor Bruce Franklin, author of a book on menhaden titled "The Most Important Fish in the Sea," supported both bills.
Important roles in the ecosystem, New Jersey shore fisheries
Menhaden, also called bunker, fulfill important roles in the Atlantic ecosystem. They filter algae from ocean water at a rate of up to four gallons per minute by feeding on rotting sea vegetation and plankton, having a positive effect on water quality. They also provide a critical food source for carnivorous fish, marine mammals and birds.
"Menhadden are a primary food source of gamefish that are crucial to Jersey Shore tourism,” Saxton said. “I'm not saying anything fishermen already don’t know; What's good for menhaden is good for stripers, blues and mackerel."
Saxton’s bill is modeled after the successful Atlantic Striped Bass Act, which Saxton and others have supported and renewed since the 1980s, and helped bring back striper stocks from the brink.
“Menhaden are a poster-fish for why we need to consider the ecosystem in the way we manage our fisheries,” Saxton said at the hearing. “More research and studies are needed to determine the health of menhaden populations, and what level is a truly sustainable catch. But the danger signs clearly point to the need for protection measures now for what is often called "the most important fish in the sea."