Md. Watermen Furious Over Menhaden Season Shutoff - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Md. Watermen Furious Over Menhaden Season Shutoff

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Menhaden (Photo: WBOC) Menhaden (Photo: WBOC)

HOOPERS ISLAND, Md.-  They are used as bait for Maryland's crabbers and even lip gloss. Menhaden, also called alewives by Maryland watermen, have been a point of controversy.

Seafood buyers and watermen alike say they are concerned the fishery is being suddenly shut down. It was announced earlier this week by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources

"It's the same old thing that we had last year, but it's even worse because I thought we had a change in the administration," said waterman Capt. Boo Powley. "But it looks like we didn't have a change in the administration because I'm in the same place I was at the same time last year."

Watermen and seafood buyers say they are concerned that the DNR has not provided firm numbers on how many fish have been caught.

"If they could present this with the numbers, then we could understand that the limit has been caught and that we are going on the bycatch, but they can't come up with any numbers so it seems kind of strange that this is happening the way it is," said Harry Phillips of Russell Hall Seafood.

"The bycatch means if I catch rockfish or spot or anything else, I can keep 6,000 pounds of menhaden, that's all," explained Powley, adding that it's hardly enough to pay for all of the fuel and labor that goes into catching them.

As for the reason there are no firm numbers, DNR has an answer for that. It has two reporting systems to keep track of the menhaden fishery.  One is an immediate, daily electronic reporting system. The other way is a written monthly log it usually receives in the middle of the following month.

The catch is, not all watermen do that electronic log, so the monthly log usually accounts for 1 million pounds or more around this time of year that wasn't in the electronic logs. So DNR closes the menhaden season early, because officials believe by the time the August monthly log comes in, they will be at the quota.  Powley said that's no excuse.

"I think someone needs to get off of their butt at the DNR and do some of this arithmetic their own self or answer a phone, because all this texting and stuff, it don't make any sense because it's not working," Powley said.

Another sore spot for watermen is that neighboring Virginia has a massive menhaden quota, so that Omega Protein can run their menhaden operations.

To help, DNR says it is working with the fisheries commission to lighten the burden of the quotas, so the watermen will not have to face these sudden stops and starts to the season. DNR also said if those August reports come in and it turns out they are well below the quota, the secretary can reopen the fishery.

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