July 11, 2014
This spring, conservation and sport fishing groups congratulated themselves on pushing the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries to reduce menhaden landings by 25 percent. To some observers, nature seems to be endorsing the move, with whales and pods of dolphins feeding right off the beaches this summer, to the delight of boaters and beachgoers.
But the millions of menhaden, also called bunker, could get scarcer late this summer for its other consumers: recreational and commercial fishermen from New Jersey to Maine.
Once the cheapest of bait fish, bunker prices have been escalating in response to increasing demand, largely from the New England lobster industry. That fleet's traditional first choice, Atlantic herring, has become steadily more restricted since 2005 as regulators pay more attention to issues like bycatch and ecosystem effects of removing herring.
Menhaden's ecosystem role low on the foodchain has made it a contentious species as well. Despite the sight of marine mammals chowing down, the impact of management changes have yet to be seen, says Paul Eidman, a charter captain and activist with Menhaden Defenders.
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