The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will likely look into how the U.S. Atlantic menhaden fishery allocates its quota in 2021.

The commission is considering reallocating the menhaden fishery this year based on Amendment 3. Implemented in 2018, the rule requires the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board to revisit its quota allocations every three years. A letter written by the Menhaden Fisheries Coalition, which represents some of the largest players in the menhaden fishing industry, is asking the commission to take into account historic catch levels in its deliberations.

Omega Protein Director of Public Affairs Ben Landry told SeafoodSource his companies fears allocations could shift away from states that have historically used the most quota. Omega Protein is one of the largest fishers of menhaden in the Atlantic and has achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification for the fishery in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

In recent years, New England states – mainly Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts – have been using a larger portion of the overall quota of menhaden. As those states fish for the species in larger amounts, they’ve also been going over their allocated quotas, and fishing amounts that are much higher than the predicted quota allocations in coming years. As the letter from MFC points out, those three states landed 34.1 million pounds of menhaden in 2019, compared to the 2021 TAC of 9.7 million pounds.

Now, those states are requesting for more quota, something which Landry said the industry finds difficult to reconcile after quotas have been cut in Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay – areas where menhaden has been harvested for decades.

“Our challenge is, we don’t understand how that’s fair and equitable to the states in the mid-Atlantic, say Virginia and New Jersey, who have a quota, stay within their quota every year, yet don’t get any bigger a slice of the pie,” Landry said. “We have not held onto our historic share because of the reallocation that occurred in 2017.”

The fear, Landry said, is that quota could be reallocated from Virginia and New Jersey to New England states. Those states, he added, are saying that there’s increased demand due to additional bait needs caused by the drop in herring quotas, which left the lobster industry scrambling for new sources of bait.

Those needs led to the council awarding extra bait quota to Maine. But Landry said the industry in the Mid-Atlantic could make the same demand arguments with regards to the need for menhaden.

“I could say the exact same thing. Fishmeal and oil, which we manufacture, continues to be a hot commodity on the global market,” he said. “I just don’t think if we went to the ASMFC, they’d listen to that for a second.”

Landry said he’s sympathetic to the need for higher quotas in New England but said quota should be redistributed from areas that aren’t using their full menhaden quotas.

“I am completely sympathetic to those guys. I think my solution would say, 'All right, who is not catching fish? Who does not have a desire to ever catch fish? And why do they have a quota,” he said.

The industry letter calls for an equitable reallocation of quota that takes into account historical use, while making sure those that need quota can access it.

“Omega Protein has been around for 140 years, we have a pretty lengthy history of what we’ve been landing,” Landry said. “To have that ability taken away because other regions want more, I get it, but let’s do it in a fair and equitable way.”

This story was originally published on SeafoodSource.

Chris Chase is the Portland, Maine-based associate editor of SeafoodSource. Previously, he worked covering local issues at the Coastal Journal in Bath, Maine, where he won multiple awards from the Maine Press Association for his news coverage and food reviews. Chris is a graduate of the University of Maine, and got his start in writing by serving as a reporter and later the State Editor of The Maine Campus, an award-winning campus newspaper.

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