Watermen Prepare for Menhaden Bycatch Limits - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Watermen Prepare for Menhaden Bycatch Limits

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CHURCH CREEK, Md.- Today, a Maryland waterman with a pound net can catch as many menhaden as he or she would like, whether it be 5,000, 15,000, or 20,000 pounds of the bait fish.  But on Friday, that gets cut back to 6,000 pounds a day to protect the species from overfishing.

You can see from any pound net, that there's more than one species swimming around in there.  That's where the concept of a bycatch kicks in.

Once Maryland's limit of menhaden, also called alewifes, is hit, the bycatch limit kicks in. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources says the idea is that since watermen cannot filter menhaden from these nets, a 6,000 pound limit per day is allowed.

Officials say it was leniency on the part of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to help watermen continue to make a living once the quota runs out.  But Burl Lewis, a fifth generation watermen, says 6,000 pounds per boat is barely enough to pay the bills.

"Every day when we untie the boat it costs us $500 to $600 just between help and fuel and direct expenses, not including gear, wear and tear," Lewis said. "And the whole 6,000 pounds is worth $800 so that leaves me $240 to $340 to try to maintain the gear and the equipment."

Lewis says his wife also owns half of the boat, and has her own watermen license and allowance, but since they are on the same boat, they are still limited to 6,000 pounds.  He thinks the bycatch should be given out per license, not per boat.

"My wife and I could go on the same boat, we could divide our bycatch quota into two separate groups so we could make it in one trip with one vessel instead of having to maintain two vessels, two crews, and two bills," Lewis said.

The DNR says the bycatch would remain in place through the remainder of 2014, during which time they say the menhaden are trailing off anyway.  The 5.2 million pound quota would start again on January first.

The bycatch quotas only effect pound netters.  Anyone using any other type of gear is still limited to their usual 1,500 pound quota with no change.
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