Authorities are considering reducing the commercial harvest of a vital fish used to make heart-healthy products but that is considered too nasty for the dinner table, according to a report Monday in the Baltimore Sun.
The Sun reported a fight brewing over menhaden, a tiny, but very important fish used in fish oil pills and animal feeds that’s being fast depleted up and down the Atlantic coast. Menhaden are also used as bait to catch Maryland’s famous blue crabs and serve as a food source for other larger fish and various kinds of wildlife.
“They're a keystone species,” biologist Paul Spitzer said. In addition to feeding other fish, menhaden are a staple for ospreys, gannets, loons and other seabirds. When scarce, Spitzer added, the health and abundance of other wildlife are obviously affected.
That’s why the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is meeting in Boston on Nov. 9 to consider a recommendation from scientists and conservationists that would reduce menhaden catches by 45 percent.
The proposal is the only way scientists see to make sure that other fish and wildlife that depend on menhaden don’t end up dying off because their main source of food is being fished out.
“We fished the stock down many decades ago, and have maintained a heavy enough fishing pressure that we’ve held it at a fairly low level,” said William Goldsborough, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He said it was time to give menhaden a chance to increase.
The proposal, however, is drawing fire from commercial fisherman in Maryland and Virginia, where nearly all the fleets that harvest menhaden are based. They warn that cutting back their catches even by one-fifth would put them out of business.
Menhaden are used to make the increasingly popular omega-3 fish oil supplements taken by many for heart health.