North Carolina to ban industrial menhaden fishing

By on May 21, 2012

Boats pull nets to encircle the fish. (NOAA)

North Carolina will soon ban industrial-scale purse seine fishing for menhaden, a species long at the center of conflict between marine conservation interests and producers of a valued dietary supplement.

Citing large by-catch kills, the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission has agreed to prohibit the practice of deploying smaller boats with purse seines from mother ships within the three-mile state limit.

The boats encircle schools of menhaden with the nets, and once the fish are ensnared, they are sucked through pipes into the larger ships.

Mother ships have sometimes been seen almost to the breakers along the Outer Banks in pursuit of the fish. Slicks of oil are usually left behind.

Planes are also deployed to spot the schools from above.

“This is a conservation measure we think needs to be put in place,” commission Chairman Rob Bizzell said in a statement.

Division of Marine Fisheries Director Louis Daniel issued a proclamation Monday implementing the ban on May 24.

A draft bill with that would ban the practice has also been approved by a legislative study committee on marine fisheries issues.

Menhaden are used to make omega-3 fatty oil, a dietary supplement said to fight heart disease, and as fertilizers and livestock feed.

Commission members expressed concerns about catches of other species in the menhaden nets, the statement said, and “the conflicts that arise with other fishing sectors.”

Popular gamefish, such as striped bass, feed on menhaden.

Omega Proteins is the only large commercial menhaden fishing operation left in the Atlantic region. In 2011, 174,000 metric tons of the fish were landed in the Atlantic region, according the the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Omega has argued that its landings indicate ample stocks of menhaden in the Atlantic. In addition, the fleet based in Reedville, Va., is a large employer.

Menhaden fishing has been widely debated over the years. Bans or tight restrictions have been discussed on the state and federal levels.

Monty Deihl, the general manager of Omega in Reedville, was quoted in a Chesapeake Quarterly story last year as saying that pressures on menhaden stocks have declined because only one processing plant remains in operation on the East Coast. He said his company harvests a tiny percentage of the stock.

Chesapeake Quarterly is published by Maryland Sea Grant.

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