Fearing that the oily menhaden is being overfished to near collapse by an industry that sells it worldwide for oil, animal feed and sport fishing bait, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to limit the total that can be harvested in a year to 170,800 metric tons, a 20 percent reduction in the average catch over the past three years.
Hundreds of fishermen, members of environmental groups, environmental activists and sport fishing enthusiasts crowded a hotel ballroom in Baltimore to witness the first-ever catch limit set for menhaden. In a half-century of overfishing, the stock has shown a dramatic decline — from 90 billion fish that were 1 year old or younger 50 years ago, to 18 billion that same age in 2010, according to the commission.
The 13 to 3 vote to rebuild the population was cheered by environmental groups and activists who dubbed menhaden the most important fish because it is a staple diet for large predator fish such as whales and porpoises, and large birds such as eagles and osprey.
But Virginia state marine officials and fishermen said it would devastate a fishing economy valued at $40 million, leading to job cuts at the state’s menhaden processing plants in Reedville and down a long supply chain.
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