Jan 28 2012

LITTLE FISH, BIG INDUSTRY: Proposed Restrictions on the Menhaden Industry Threaten Atlantic Coastal Economies


Just as scientists note the complex interdependence of species in the natural world, economists note a similar kind of interdependence at work with industries, communities, and livelihoods. With so much already on the line during these trying times, menhaden policies based on disputed, inconclusive ecological theories could yield devastating impacts on this economic web of life. 


With an economy struggling to regain equilibrium, governments at all levels have adopted policies aimed at triggering a resurgence in job growth and economic stimulus. Unfortunately, the prospect of some new policies may create more challenging conditions for one important industry based on a small and prolific fish – the Atlantic menhaden.

Most Americans know little about menhaden, an oily fish more likely to be found in their medicine cabinets than on their dinner plates. Prized as one of the main sources for fish oil and fish meal, menhaden are also found in hundreds of household items, from margarine to pet food to salad dressing. The fish also make great bait for crabbers and lobstermen. All told, the resource supports thousands of jobs – directly and indirectly – and generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually, in effect, representing a significant path towards improving the country’s dour economic circumstances.

But this path may become fraught with obstruction, which largely stems from disagreement about the sustainability of the fish and mounting pressure on the regulatory authority that oversees its management. Lauded as a victory for environmental and recreational angling groups who have long dismayed of commercial menhaden fishing, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a deliberative body of representatives from all 15 Atlantic coast states, recently voted to set new “safe harvest” limits on menhaden. Before they are implemented, the ASMFC Menhaden Board – a committee comprised of state fisheries professionals and political appointees – will need to determine the regulations that will achieve these newly approved goals.  The question is: will they implement policies that cause economic harm to the industry and, consequently, the myriad jobs and communities that rely on it?


Read the rest of the article on Saving Seafood.




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