KENNEBUNK — Maine’s lobstermen recently caught a break with the reopening of the state’s menhaden fishery. A key source of local, fresh bait for Maine’s lobster fishery, menhaden has been an increasingly common presence in Maine waters. But the fishery’s reopening is only a temporary patch on a long-standing problem.

Scientists have determined that the menhaden stock is in great shape. But the fishery suffered steep cuts in quota by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the interstate body that manages menhaden, because the stock assessment conducted in 2012 had erroneously concluded that the stock was overfished.

The most recent menhaden assessment, conducted in 2015, found that the opposite was the case: Menhaden is not being overfished and has not been overfished since the 1960s. In short, the fishery is being managed sustainably. When read in conjunction with other metrics from the assessment, including all-time low levels of fishing mortality, it is clear that the menhaden stock is poised for long-term success.

Last year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, in recognition of the sustainability of current menhaden management, raised the coastwide quota by 10 percent. While this increase was a positive development for fishermen, the quota still remains well below what it what it was nearly five years ago.

We have made dramatic gains in our understanding of the stock. Since the current science clearly supports the sustainability of the menhaden stock, the quota can clearly be safely increased.

In the year since the 2015 assessment, additional science continues to support a quota increase. The marine fisheries commission also conducted an analysis earlier this year to determine the potential impact of a quota increase on the menhaden population. The assessment consisted of nearly 9,000 simulations, testing a variety of different potential harvest level raises.


At all levels tested, the scientists’ conclusion was that there was a zero percent chance of overfishing if the quota were to be raised. There are few decisions of resource allocation that can be made with such certainty.

Today, menhaden fishermen are back out on the water, thanks to an “episodic exemption” from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. This allows them to continue to fish above Maine’s low menhaden quota when the fish become abundant in state waters. This year’s episodic exemption in Maine supports the assessment’s conclusion that there are large numbers of menhaden in Atlantic waters.

This phenomenon is not limited to Maine. Large schools of menhaden have been reported throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic, especially in states like New York and Rhode Island. Both of those states were also granted episodic exemptions this year after experiencing unusually large menhaden runs in their state waters. There is currently no reason why the quota cannot be reasonably increased.

Even states with larger quotas, such as New Jersey, have had trouble keeping up with the menhaden schools in their waters. Garden State fishermen met their menhaden quota early in the summer, leaving enough menhaden crowding into local waterways to cause menhaden die-offs. These incidents support the ASMFC’s scientific conclusions that the menhaden stock is healthy, and menhaden management is sustainable.

All of which raises this question: Why has the quota remained at its current artificially low level, given the flawed assessment that the quota is predicated on? As it stands, lobstermen are paying exorbitant prices for bait this year because of a summer shortage of fresh bait such as herring and menhaden.

Maine’s lobster industry generated nearly $2 billion in economic activity for the state in 2015. Lobster landings alone were valued at more than half a billion dollars. Our coastal communities depend on this revenue for their economic vitality, and Maine lobstermen depend on a steady bait supply to generate landings. In addition, menhaden fishermen also lose thousands of dollars each year by virtue of the artificially low cap.

This month, when the issue of raising the menhaden quota is again brought to a vote, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has the opportunity to reverse its flawed decision to cut the menhaden harvest. Mainers would be greatly served by a prompt ASMFC vote to increase the quota to a reasonable level.

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