Omega Protein is attempting to secure sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Public Comment Draft Report (PCDR) on Atlantic menhaden Certification deadline January 14th, 2019.

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Menhaden Defenders and all of our followers strongly object to the recommendation that Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery be certified as a “sustainable” fishery, as current management does not consider the critical role of menhaden as forage for other species.  Until it does, and until Omega Protein and their parent company, Cooke Inc, agrees to abide by these rules, the reduction fishery should not be eligible for certification by the MSC.

A fundamental flaw with the recommendation to certify Atlantic menhaden (and the whole process in general) is the absurd standard that the fishery not deplete any one species by more than 70%.  Reviewers hail the fact that striped bass, the species most impacted by the menhaden fishery, is only reduced by 28%!

The striped bass fishery is worth billions of dollars to the east coast economy and to suggest that it is tolerable to reduce its potential by nearly 30% is ludicrous.  Just ask any recreational fisherman whether it is appropriate for the reduction industry to deplete the striped bass fishery by 30% and the answer will be an emphatic “NO.”  And if this information were not bad enough, recreational fishermen are actually looking at substantial cuts to the striped bass fishery.  That’s because the latest stock assessment is likely to show that striped bass are “overfished” and “overfishing” is occurring.

For over a decade, Menhaden Defenders has been working tirelessly to restore Menhaden populations from Maine to Florida. In 2012, the ASMFC, after declaring that overfishing was occurring, implemented a reduction in harvest ruling to rebuild the stock. Since this time, we have witnessed a resurgence in our local menhaden population.

At the same time, we have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins in our area (NY/NJ Bight). It is clear to the residents of this area that these marine mammals are coming into shallow inshore areas because the biomass of menhaden has re-populated once again.

Interactions between Omega netting operations and marine mammals is certainly possible and likely significant, and as the PCDR points out, bycatch data is scant due to miniscule observer coverage.  Further, continued exploitation of menhaden in localized feeding areas will certainly impact marine mammals.

Menhaden Defenders hopes that Omega/Cooke recognizes that this fishery is currently managed by a flawed single species system and until an ecosystem-based management system is put into place, one that takes into consideration ALL the ecosystem services that these keystone forage fish provide, that this fishery cannot be declared sustainable in any way. Industrial scale harvesting of the menhaden at current levels directly impacts the health and abundance of humpback whales, dolphins, striped bass and many other species. Continuing this fishery at current levels will have a negative effect on the coastal economies that depend upon a healthy ecosystem.

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