A Rhode Island environmental coalition has been meeting with Governor Gina Raimondo and other state leaders to push for changes in the menhaden fishing industry.
The changes to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic menhaden are up for a vote next Monday and Tuesday at the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board meeting in Maryland.
The board is considering Amendment 3, which would tie catch limits for menhaden to their role in the ecosystem.
"They’re a migratory fish, and they migrate up the East Coast in the summer time and are the primary source of food for most of our local fish here in Rhode Island," Jonathan Stone, executive director at Save the Bay and a supporter of the proposal, said.
Menhaden serve as a food source for larger fish, such as striped bass, and marine mammals, such as humpback whales.
Meg Kerr, senior director of policy at Rhode Island’s Audubon Society, said Menhaden also benefit the state's growing osprey population.
"Menhaden have been shown to be a preferred food source for osprey and (osprey) thrive more when they have menhaden available," Kerr said.
Menhaden have historically been overfished for their oil and use in fertilizer since the 1800s. The first catch limits for the species did not go into effect until 2013.
Since then, the menhaden population has stabilized off the Atlantic coast and catch limits have been slightly increasing each year.
However, the coalition wants the population to continue to grow so that the fish not only replenish their current numbers, but remain in large enough numbers for all of the other species that depend on them. The coalition is pushing for this "ecological-based" policy to be in place before a change in catch limits, which is scheduled to be considered for 2018.
If Amendment 3 is approved, the menhaden fishery would be the first in the country to use an ecosystem-based management model.
Rhode Island board members include Chair Bob Ballou, assistant to the director of Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management, and Democratic state Senator Susan Sosnowski.