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Menhaden statistics are not entirely reputable


Date published: 3/11/2013

In discussing cuts by the General Assembly to the Chesapeake Bay's menhaden catch, The Free Lance-Star's editorial ["Better days for Bay?" March 1] states that Omega Protein "has been blamed" for reducing Atlantic menhaden numbers and, in turn, weakening the health of the bay.

The editorial's reliance on disputable findings misleads readers regarding menhaden status. It would have been more accurate to state that Omega has been "falsely accused." Instead, by implication, you suggest that the unproven rhetoric surrounding menhaden abundance is accurate.

Scientists at NOAA and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have repeatedly concluded that menhaden abundance--which has fluctuated over the past half-century--is largely independent of fishing efforts. Biologists contend that environmental factors are the defining component for the population's health.

The article also faults Omega Protein for "question[ing] allegations about menhaden's lessening numbers." But Omega isn't alone in questioning these latest findings. Limited data are available on the fishery's current status. The most recent assessment, released in 2012, was deemed severely flawed by the ASFMC, and the commission concluded in a January 2013 conference call that there is currently insufficient information to definitively categorize the stock as overfished.

Menhaden do not "filter" water as stated. A 2007 study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science demonstrated that menhaden don't provide significant benefits to water quality. Only juveniles, who are too young to be targeted by the fishery, consume phytoplankton, which, in excess, cause harmful algal blooms. Menhaden older than one year generally eat zooplankton, which do not affect water quality.

Although the article references menhaden as a "top menu selection" for striped bass, menhaden compose only a portion of the species' diet. In 2010, VIMS found that menhaden represented about 8 percent of striped bass diet in the Bay.

Ben Landry

Reedville

Ben Landry is director of public affairs at Omega Protein.