Fishing companies are at odds with Rhode Island environmental advocacy groups over proposed changes for the menhaden fishing industry.
Changes to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden are up for a vote at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Maryland this Monday and Tuesday.
The commission's Atlantic Menhaden Management Board is considering a new amendment that would tie menhaden catch limits to the role they play in the ecosystem. The fish are a primary food source for larger fish, such as striped bass, marine mammals, and birds, such as osprey.
Rhode Island environmental groups support the approval of a temporary ecological-based management plan to make sure there’s enough menhaden in Narragansett Bay for predators to eat. Those temporary rules would be adjusted as more data becomes available.
Meghan Lapp, fishery liaison for the Rhode Island-based Seafreeze Ltd, said that temporary plan shouldn't be implemented because it's based off of science that isn’t applicable to menhaden.
Lapp said the plan environmentalists are pushing uses the number of adult fish in the water to determine how many babies will hatch the following year. Lapp said that isn’t the right way to manage the fishery.
"All menhaden lay a lot of eggs and what determines how many baby fish you will have the next year is the environmental conditions that those eggs are laid in, it's 100 percent environmental" Lapp said. "If the environmental conditions are good, a lot of babies live; if the environmental conditions are poor, not as many live."
Lapp said the board should continue to manage the fishery with their current plan - which she described as already being conservative - and wait to implement a menhaden-specific ecological-based policy when the science is available in the next couple of years.
Environmentalists also want less menhaden to be harvested. However, Lapp said the menhaden population is currently not overfished and hasn’t been for about 15 years.
Jeff Kaelin, who works in government relations for a New Jersey-based fishing company called Lund's Fisheries, said menhaden fishermen actually leave the majority of the stock in the ocean.
"Menhaden fishermen take about 10 percent of the menhaden that are available on an annual basis in the fishery, that’s all, 80 to 90 percent stays in the water," Kaelin said.
Both Lapp and Kaelin support increasing the catch limit, which is currently set at 200,000 metric tons a year and split between 15 Atlantic coast states. They said menhaden are currently being underfished and the population would still be sustainable if more were removed from the ocean.
This post has been updated.