Jackson County

Latest report says menhaden thriving in the Gulf

McCLATCHY SOUTHEASTMenhanden are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
McCLATCHY SOUTHEASTMenhanden are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

A commission that assesses the health and viability of the menhaden population in the Gulf released a report this week that says despite massive commercial hauls, the menhaden population is sound.

It’s called a stock assessment for menhaden — a fish caught for catfood and fish oil supplements and a favorite food of large game fish. If fact, there’s been controversy this year over how many redfish commercial menhaden boats in the Gulf should be allowed to keep in the bycatch while fishing for menhaden.

Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission evaluated the status of the Gulf menhaden in U.S. waters and concluded the “Gulf of Mexico’s menhaden stock is not experiencing overfishing,” said Steven J. VanderKooy, a fisheries coordinator with the commission, which has an Ocean Springs office.

The assessment was completed as a cooperative effort of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Menhaden catches support the second largest commercial fishery by weight in the United States. Menhaden are small filter feeders that don’t grow much longer than a foot and only live for three or four years.

Despite the fact that millions of pounds are hauled in each year, they are thriving, VanderKooy said. “They are really, really resilient. It’s a great fish and short-lived.

‘We’re not harming anything’

“We’re not really harming anything at this point. In fact it looks really good, the population is continuing to build. It’s not that it’s rebuilding, there hasn’t been a population issue since the 1980s.”

The Coast menhaden company Omega Protein harvests from April to November, he said. “Then the adults move off shore to spawn, and they are not fished during that time.”

The results of this year’s update assessment is that the population has increased since the benchmark was done in 2013.

Each of the five states’ marine resource agencies provided the necessary data to plug into the study model for the update, he said. It’s available on the commission’s website. The commission adds data for the update — plugging in the amount of fishing effort, date on the age groups of the fish and how many young come inshore each year.

NOAA does the benchmark, which is peer reviewed by outside experts, he said.

“The model indicates that fishing mortality rates decreased during the 1990s and has remained at a low level through today,” he said. Additionally, spawning stock has increased steadily since the 1990s and remains at a high level, he said.

The commission’s Menhaden Advisory Committee recommends that the next benchmark assessment occur in two years, when they might consider changing the model and insert new data or refine the data they are using now.

“There’s a lot of new stuff we didn’t put in the update, but we want to put in the benchmark,” he said.