Equating the stocking of menhaden in Maryland's waters to a set of traffic lights, Mike Waine sees the current plight somewhere closer to red than green.
Waine, the fisheries management coordinator for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said Tuesday's two-hour hearing in
helped gauge the public's view on the overfishing of menhaden — and the future management of the species.
Once considered a delicacy, menhaden are now more highly regarded as the main forager of unwanted algae as well as a source of food for the region's striped bass population.
According to Waine, the overfishing of menhaden this year for the first time in nine years prompted the ASMFC and other interested parties to draft an addendum to the current regulations regarding menhaden.
Waine said the goal is to reduce the fishing mortality rate of menhaden — those extracted from the waters by fishermen — and to spend the new few years studying other species of fish to see how they compare to menhaden when it comes to overfishing.
"In the stoplight analogy, the green light is fishing at the target rate and the red light is when we get to the threshhold — the level which we don't want to surpass" in terms of overfishing, Waine said. "Right now we're at a yellow light, but we don't want it to become red."
Among the suggestions made in the addendum is to leave 15 percent of the breeding stock in the water. As of now, that level is about 8 percent. Also proposed are targets between 20 and 40 percent to avoid overfishing.
Dave Smith, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, said "that 40 percent target will help reduce the harvest by about 45 percent" and will continue to feed striped bass.
"If that food source collapses for striped bass, it's just a domino effect," Smith said.
Smith said most of the views expressed at the hearing last week "were overwhelmingly for ASMFC to take action for leaving [at least] 15 percent in the water," adding that "there were maybe two comments in opposition."
Noticeably absent — or at least silent — were any representatives from locally based Omega, which makes fish oils it produces through the reduction of menhaden pulled from the Maryland waters.
Those interested in voicing their views have until Nov. 2.
After that, the Menhaden Management Board will present its recommendations to the ASMFC.
But Waine said reaching the prescribed targets, especially those favored by the MSSA and others, "is still years away."