While prominent environmental groups have claimed for years that the menhaden fishery has harvested too many menhaden, a thorough analysis from the Menhaden Fisheries Coalition shows that the number of fish being caught is a small fraction of the coastwide population.
Between 2004-2013, the fishery only harvested an average of 6.4 percent of the overall menhaden population. This leaves over 93% of menhaden left in the ecosystem as forage for birds, fish and other sea creatures. Menhaden fishing mortality, which hit an all-time low in the last assessment, is dwarfed by natural mortality, which accounts for predation and mortality from other causes outside of the fishery.
The analysis, “The Fate of an Atlantic Menhaden Year Class,” and accompanying infographic, “Atlantic Menhaden: Fishing by the Numbers” is based on the catch data included in the 2015 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Atlantic menhaden stock assessment. Also examined in the analysis is the age of menhaden that are caught by the fishery. The fishery specifically does not target juvenile menhaden—those most likely to serve as forage—and the oldest fish—those that are the most fertile spawners. This harvest approach is reflected in the catch data: the fishery overwhelmingly catches menhaden between the ages of 2 and 3, and the catch for juvenile and older menhaden is negligible.
These estimates, along with the 2015 assessment’s headline findings that menhaden are not experiencing overfishing nor are they being overfished, further confirm the sustainability of the fishery. With such a small percentage of the menhaden population actually going to harvest, as well as other positive indicators for stock health, it is clear that current menhaden management is safeguarding the health and the future of the species.
For more information on the results of the analysis, please review the infographic below. For more information on how these estimates were calculated, read “The Fate of an Atlantic Menhaden Year Class.”