Historic win for the protection of Atlantic menhaden
by Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper
Menhaden are vitally important to the ecological health of Narragansett Bay. They are prolific filter feeders that remove nitrogen from Bay waters, and are an important food source for many of the Bay’s common species. In the spring, huge schools of menhaden swim into Narragansett Bay, reaching the Woonasquatucket and Mosshasuck Rivers in downtown Providence. Chasing those menhaden are bluefish, striped bass, and thousands of anglers on boats and from the shoreline.
Last month, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted 18-0 to increase protection of Atlantic menhaden by adopting a set of “ecological reference points,” or ERPs, to guide future management of the species. The ERPs tie limits on menhaden harvesting to the population of striped bass, which feed on menhaden. With striped bass populations stressed, the ASFMC vote is timely. Stronger protection for menhaden, which is the largest fishery on the East Coast, will ensure striped bass, osprey, whales, and other species have the food necessary to recover and thrive.
The menhaden vote comes on the heels of years of advocacy by conservation groups, including recreational anglers and related industries, environmental organizations, and, most importantly, scientists. Hundreds of thousands of letters supporting ERPs overcame stiff opposition from the menhaden harvest industry and their politically powerful backers. Advocates for menhaden conservation are hopeful that other species will be added as ecological reference points to strengthen protections for the “most important fish in the sea.”
Save The Bay is thrilled to have played a role in this historic win for science-based decision-making in fisheries management. In the years leading up to August’s vote, we teamed up with the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island to meet, and press the issue with Governor Raimondo, key Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management officials, and state ASMFC commissioners. Rhode Island’s delegation has been a strong supporter of protecting menhaden, and our voice was definitely heard. We’re proud to have worked with an extremely dedicated group of local, regional, and national partners in making ERPs a reality.
Watch the below video from Pew to learn more about menhaden’s role in the food chain:
Read more about Save The Bay’s efforts to protect habitats and wildlife.