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Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Votes To Increase Menhaden Quotas

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(Photo: CBS) (Photo: CBS)

HOOPERS ISLAND, Md.- Three years ago, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission cut back 20 percent of the menhaden fishing quota due to a report saying they were being overfished.  Last year, another report contradicted that, and so the commission gave back 10 percent of that quota.  The commission has now given back another six percent for next year, but watermen say it isn't nearly enough.

Menhaden are a commonly used bait in other fisheries, and are a lifeline to the small handful of menhaden fishermen left on the Chesapeake like Captain Boo Powley.

"Probably about ten at the most are left.  This year I know of five that we've lost.  There's only a few of us left, and I guess that's what they really wanted to do was put it out of business.  They are doing a good job of it," said Powley.

Three years ago, watermen insisted, and even filed a lawsuit arguing that the science behind the quota cutbacks and the evidence of overfishing was incorrect.  They lost on technicalities.  Last year a new report from the ASMFC showed in fact that menhaden were not being overharvested, so they gave back ten percent, which still didn't please the watermen.

"Just give them the full 20 back," said Molly Robertson at Russell Hall Seafood.  "Why take something and only give them a small percentage when obviously your science was wrong?  Give them it all back."

The ASMFC says the science was not wrong, simply a new method of studying the species was developed and provided different results.

This week, the commission voted to further increase the quotas by 6.5 percent in 2017.  Groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation argue no increases should be made, saying "no new data has come out to support this increase since the management board's decision last year to boost the quota by 10 percent."  They wanted the commission to wait until a new amendment was finalized that better analyzed the menhaden's role in the ecosystem.

Meanwhile watermen are still upset they don't have their 20 percent back, and its leading some to give up.

"I've got two more years and I'm gonna hang it up.  I'm tired of fighting the state, I'm tired of fighting them, I'm just getting too old for the worries," said Powley.

When Powley retires, it brings five generations of menhaden fishermen to a close.

According to an ASMFC technical committee, the 6.5 percent increase will not result in any possibility of overfishing.  Watermen say Maryland is in no danger of overfishing since there are so few menhaden fishermen in the state and they fish using stationary nets, as opposed to the much more efficient and impactful harvest that happens in Virginia, which is home to Omega Protein.  Maryland's quota is almost 6 million pounds of menhaden, Virginia's quota is 372 million pounds of fish.

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