WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) On February 20, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support claims that menhaden are overfished. The full ASMFC approved a report adapted from a January 2013 Menhaden Technical Committee teleconference which determined that based upon currently-available information, the status of the resource is unknown and will remain so until a new stock assessment is conducted.
Leading up to last December's highly-charged and emotional ASMFC meeting when new regulations on Atlantic menhaden were adopted, numerous conservation and recreational fishing groups made the claim that the stock was overfished, dismissing scientific arguments to the contrary, and disparaging evidence presented by the commercial fishing industry. These groups included the Coastal Conservation Association, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, and in several instances, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, whose senior scientist Chris Moore wrote in December that the "Menhaden Technical Committee says that if the new population standards it recommends are adopted, the population would be considered overfished."
One particularly high-profile appearance of the claim was in a November 2012 letter to the ASMFC signed by 94 "scientists," many of whom had affiliations with the Pew Environment Group. Few if any of the signers had actual experience in menhaden stock assessments and one of the "scientists" is an English professor. In the letter, the group alleged that "the best scientific information we have indicates that menhaden is subject to overfishing and is overfished when evaluated against a 15% MSP biomass threshold." Citing this letter, Pew's Northeast Fisheries Program Director Peter Baker wrote, in a December 2012 op-ed, "the stock is thus overfished according to the most recent science," and argued that the commercial industry's position, which has turned out to be true, was "an outdated picture of the science."
The claim that menhaden are overfished was echoed in media outlets, both national such as the New York Times ("Battle Brews Over a Small, Vital Fish," 12/13/12) and local, such as the Newport News (Virginia) Daily Press ("New draft plan to manage menhaden," 9/18/12).
All of these claims were made — and reported — before the facts were in.
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