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Canadian Aquaculture Giant Gobbles Up Last American Baitfish Grinder for Fun and Profit

by Captain Paul Eidman
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association November 2017 Newsletter)

In case you haven’t heard, a multinational fish farming company (Cooke Inc.) has made a deal to purchase Omega protein Inc. and take them into the private sector. While we the ink is not dry on this deal, it is obvious that the American fishing community will not be part of this new portfolio. There is no doubt that new, private ownership will continue to disregard the needs of the ecosystem and coastal businesses and seek to increase harvest levels to feed salmon, sea bass and sea bream farms around the globe.

This move is clearly a game changer for the menhaden game as we know it. It will no longer be transparent and recreational anglers will most certainly get the short end of the stick once again. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to reveal that it will be profit first, ecosystem last business as usual. We can only imagine what lurks beneath the surface of this deal. In any case, it is very clear that American baitfish will be vacuumed up, exported to god knows where, then sold back to us as Salmon and other fish as our already suffering coastal ecosystems and businesses take yet another hit.

If you have been watching from the sidelines, now is the time to speak up. There is an upcoming decision in November and your voice needs to be heard NOW. It only takes a moment to visit our website (www.menhadendefenders.org) to submit comment by the deadline of Oct 24.

Menhaden Defenders mission is to restore, rebuild and sustain the bunker population from Maine to Florida so the entire coastline ecosystems and related waterfront economy can benefit from an abundance of these vital baitfish.

Atlantic Menhaden (Bunker, Pogy) are the backbone of the entire East coast and gulf of Mexico’s ecosystems. Hundreds of small businesses, from tackle and coffee shops to marinas and boat dealerships along Jersey’s coast depend upon the abundance of these baitfish to feed gamefish and keep people fishing. Jersey anglers targeting Striped bass, bluefish and summer flounder know just how important bunker are for these species to survive.

Bunker are clearly the glue that holds NJ’s fishing together. Studies now show that there is a direct correlation between an abundant bunker population and a healthy striper population. No Bunker equals NO Bass! No bass equals no fisherman and the money that comes with them so the local economy suffers further.

For the past couple of years, we have finally seen massive schools of peanut bunkers (young of year menhaden) returning along our shoreline in the fall and surfcasters are able to enjoy catching bass in our boots right off the beach. This is due directly to the first ever catch limits that were implemented due to a lot of hard work and thousands of anglers speaking out back in 2012. The ASMFC heard us loud and clear and made the historic move to reduce catch. All of us can see on the water that with just a little moderation and reduction of catch, the bunker will multiply fast and bounce back stronger as time goes on. Additionally, we now have more dolphins, whales, osprey and eagles along our beaches feeding on the now more abundant bunkers!

All these signs tell us that it is clearly best for New Jersey is that we continue with the conservation momentum that we have. There is an important vote coming up in November and you have until Oct 24th to make your voice heard to the ASMFC.

Instead of continually working to increase catch, we should manage more conservatively with ecological reference points next year. All of the three options on the table right now are far superior to our current management system and for the record, we support the most conservative option: Option E - With this reference point it is essential that catch be managed to the target of 75% of the virgin biomass and that the new reference points be implemented ASAP in the 2018 season. This is better for Jersey’s fishermen, both commercial and recreational and a real win for the NJ economy.

Holding the catch limit right where it is right now makes a lot of sense. What doesn’t make sense is why a single state continues to get 85% of the quota and refuses to share with the other states. If VA were to get a catch increase right now, New jersey’s Bunker Bait boats would get barely a micron of the quota. For years, Menhaden Defenders has advocated for a 70/30 split. That is, 70% for omega and 30% for the bait fleet. It’s up to the reduction industry (Formerly Omega) to give up quota and share with the other players in the industry.

Back in 2007 NJ fishing organizations along with bait netters teamed up to get Omega’s factory ships out of NJ state waters because we all knew that if we pushed them out we would all collectively benefit. Currently, the netters have decided to side with Omega. This makes no sense to me at all. Gluttonous Omega is not going to share a single fish more with the bait netters.

Back in 2012, Governor Christie sided with the former Governor of Virginia in exchange for political favors while selling out the recreational fishing community of NJ, something he promised that he would not do. Christie did it again at subsequent ASMFC votes in 2015 and 2016 to this day, Christie’s team continues to make sure that NJ state ASMFC commissioners vote against menhaden conservation! With New Jersey’s consistent anti conservation vote, they voted to increase catch from waters right at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the very nursery that the overwhelming majority of coastal stripers come from!

The Implementation of ecosystem based management strategies will carry us well into the future and ensure that the base of the future remains healthy enough to feed ALL of the creatures in the sea and sustain coastal business.

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