Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fishy Friday: Good News for the Menhaden (and all the other fish in the sea)*

There was a very important victory in Boston on Wednesday, one that was lost among all the other headlines — turmoil in Italy, the storm off the western Alaskan Coast, GOP debate blunders… At its November 9th meeting, the menhaden board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to cut the annual menhaden harvest by 37 percent.  Those of you who read my first Fishy Friday post two weeks ago  will recall that the tiny menhaden, called the “most important fish in the sea,” has been overfished to just 10% of its historic levels. A critical food source for wildlife, birds, dolphins, whales, and fish including striped bass and bluefish, the menhaden plays a vital role in the ecosystem of the Eastern Seaboard. 
The Pew Environmental Group’s well-organized campaign, the Plan to Save the Menhaden, played a major role in this victory. The ASMFC received nearly 92,000 comments on menhaden harvest limits, the vast majority in favor of such instituting such measures. The new harvest limit, which is subject to a vote by the full commission in one year, would take effect in 2013.

“Today’s vote is a welcome step for a fish that hasn’t caught a break since Dwight Eisenhower was president,” said Peter Baker, director of Northeast Fisheries at the Pew Environment Group. “Scientists have warned that having too few menhaden in the water could result in disastrous impacts on the fish and wildlife that eat them.” 

Billions of Atlantic menhaden are currently being hauled in and ground up each year — destined to become fertilizer, pet food, dietary supplements [menhaden are rich in Omega-3], and feed for farm-raised animals and fish. Omega Protein, responsible for taking in 3/4 of the entire East Coast catch — more than 410 million pounds, will clearly not welcome this news.

The Plan to Save the Menhaden was a real eye-opener for me. For a while I had been focused upon “best” and “worst” seafood choices and hadn’t been thinking so much about the other fish in the sea and all the ways they were being used (and abused). But now I’m all fired up.

I’ve just signed on to become a Seafood Watch Advocate through a program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium so chances are pretty good that you’ll be hearing lots more about fish from me.

I’ve also been reading Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. I am inspired by Greenberg’s favorable assessment of the farming of barramundi. There’s a large operation in Turner’s Falls, Massachusetts [ironically, the site of the dam which ended the salmon run in the Connecticut River]. I see a future post on barramundi (AKA Asian Sea Bass) as well as a possible campaign to get this sustainable fish into the Elm City Market Co-Op. I guess I should taste some first. Stay tuned…

* and birds and animals, and people, too

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