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The right conservation considers fish and jobs

January 17, 2013 12:01 pm


--In his recent opinion piece ["Conserve menhaden, restore jobs, help ecosystem," Dec. 3], the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Chris Moore attacked my earlier piece ["Menhaden: Not Overfished, Not Endangered," Nov. 25] for using "outdated information and scare tactics to argue for the status quo." But the scientific arguments that Moore makes are not as airtight as he leads readers to believe.

Accusing my op-ed of citing outdated information, Moore calls the current reference points "old standards that the commission has since changed." But the measure that he references has not been agreed upon, finalized, voted on, or implemented by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Despite recognizing this in his own writing, Moore asserts that this proposed limit should be used to judge past menhaden landings. Retroactively applying new limits to claim past overfishing is like lowering the speed limit and then presenting drivers with 50 years worth of speeding tickets.

Moore's comparison of menhaden management to rockfish and crab conservation mixes apples and oranges. Unlike rockfish, which live up to 30 years, menhaden are comparatively short-lived (a maximum of 10-12 years), and produce a high number of eggs during their lifetimes. This results in large classes of new menhaden each year, but also exposes them to a high amount of population variability from year to year.

This variation has been observed throughout the fishery's history, with biomass estimates fluctuating a great deal depending on environmental factors. Current biomass estimates are similar to levels seen in the late 1960s, when biomass was lower than it is now, despite Moore's incorrect assertion that the stock is currently at an "all time low." Years of strong recruitment and a healthy population followed in the 1970s and 1980s even without fishery management measures.

Moore accuses me of threatening "devastating job losses to argue against meaningful catch reductions." The reality is that while we know cuts of 20 percent to 50 percent will result in job loss, no one knows if reductions in catch will increase menhaden biomass. Here is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay Office says: "Menhaden recruitment appears to be independent of fishing mortality and spawning stock biomass, indicating environmental factors may be the defining factor in the production of good year classes. If menhaden recruitment is largely environmentally driven, adoption of the new reference points may not result in better recruitment. However, there is a possibility that the stock may be able to take greater advantage of favorable environmental conditions if a larger percentage of spawning adults remain in the population."

So at best, cuts in the menhaden harvest might increase the population if the right environmental conditions coincide with fishing reduction. If the regulators want to try this to see if it works, we have just one request. We simply ask for cuts that do not kill jobs. We are joined in this request by both the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400. The industry, the union, and the NAACP are not opposed to conservation. We do not suggest that because there is scientific uncertainty there should be no action. We argue that any measure taken be carefully crafted to preserve both the resource and the jobs that depend on it.

Monty Deihl is director of fishing operations at Omega Protein.

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.