[Marxism] The most important fish in the sea

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 15 09:40:00 MST 2012

With its putrid smell, bony flesh and rancid oily taste, the menhaden 
would seem the least likely candidate for “The Most Important Fish in 
the Sea,” the title of H. Bruce Franklin’s brilliant new 
environmentalist study. But Franklin is not being ironic. The menhaden 
is the most important fish in the sea if you understand its ecological 

While it is understandable that groups like Greenpeace would take up the 
cause of sea creatures at the top of the food chain, like the great 
whales or the bluefin tuna, Franklin understands that without the easily 
dismissed menhaden, those above it on the food chain do not stand a 
chance. This includes the human race as well, since the menhaden is 
particularly suited to cleaning up plankton-ridden waters. As one of the 
few marine specimens that thrive on microscopic plant life or 
phyloplanton, it is uniquely positioned to purify waters that have 
become virtual swamps as a result of the massive influx of 
nitrogen-based fertilizers from farms, lawns and golf courses. With much 
of the Gulf of Mexico having been turned into a vast dead zone by 
fertilizer run-off from the Mississippi River, there is a drastic need 
for the humble menhaden.



NY Times December 14, 2012
Broad Catch Limits Are Put on an Unglamorous but Essential Fish

BALTIMORE — Regulators on Friday voted to reduce the harvest of Atlantic 
menhaden by 20 percent, placing a broad catch limit on a critical 
fishery that has until now been largely unregulated.

A small, oily fish — also called bunker or pogy — the Atlantic menhaden 
is rarely eaten by humans, and little known outside of coastal circles. 
But for the Atlantic ecosystem as well as commercial and recreational 
fishermen, it is an essential fish. The question of its management drew 
hundreds of fishermen, processors and environmentalists to mobilize for 
a showdown in a windowless ballroom here.

“Menhaden’s one of the linchpins of the near-shore ecosystem in the East 
Coast,” said Peter Baker, the director of the Northeast fisheries 
program for the Pew Environment Group, who said that over the past 30 
years, the stock of the fishery has fallen about 90 percent.

The fishery had never been subject to catch limits along the entire 
Atlantic coast — a rarity in contemporary fishery management — allowing 
fleets to harvest virtually unlimited amounts from the ocean.

“The Wild West fishery that’s been going on with menhaden — to have a 
fishery that’s essentially been unregulated, it’s unheard of,” said 
Darren Saletta, the executive director of the Massachusetts Commercial 
Striped Bass Association.

This unglamorous forage fish eats phytoplankton, cleansing ocean water. 
In turn, its flesh nourishes bigger, more edible and lucrative fish — 
like striped bass and bluefish — as well as seabirds and marine mammals.

It has long played a role in the American economy. Indians are said to 
have taught the Pilgrims how to use it to fertilize corn. Today, 
menhaden are important to commercial fishermen who use them for bait, as 
well as recreational fishermen who are after the species that feed on them.

“When there’s bunker in the water, I have striped bass, weakfish and 
bluefish for my customers to catch,” said Capt. Paul Eidman, a charter 
boat captain from New Jersey and the president of the advocacy group 
Menhaden Defenders. “Without abundant menhaden in the water, my game 
fish go somewhere else.”

The hallways outside the meeting here filled with chatter as commercial 
and recreational fishermen swapped anecdotes about what many claim is an 
obvious depletion of the species.

“When we first started fishing for menhaden in Chatham, it was not a 
problem to go out with just a grappling hook and catch 20 in 20 
minutes,” said Capt. Dale Tripp, who has operated commercial and charter 
boats in Cape Cod since 1973. “Now, you can’t go out with a gill net and 
catch 20 in two hours.”

Many blame the “reduction fishery,” which harvests about 80 percent of 
the menhaden that come out of the sea each year. It is for the most part 
operated by a single company, Omega Protein, which grinds up the fish 
for use in fish-oil dietary supplements, fertilizer and animal feed.

But Omega’s executives and fishermen say that they have not seen a 
problem with fish stocks and that overregulation could squelch industry 
jobs. “We’re catching more with less vessels, which, to us, means you 
can’t have a declining population if less effort produces more fish,” 
said Ben Landry, Omega’s director of public affairs, who said that the 
company supported a 10 percent reduction in the catch, but nothing higher.

In 2011, stock assessments from the previous year led the Atlantic 
States Marine Fisheries Commission to commit to make reductions in the 
fishery, although they did not determine exactly how to do it. Questions 
about the long-range accuracy of the 2012 stock assessment, however, led 
the board to decide to take interim actions this year, and conduct 
another review when 2014 stock assessments are available.

The opaqueness of the latest assessment fueled tension at Friday’s 
meeting. As the regulators debated catch limits ranging from 10 to 50 
percent, commercial and recreational fishermen held up yellow signs in 
support of menhaden conservation, a group of Omega’s union workers — 
also clad in yellow — circled the room.

The cut could be damaging to Virginia, where Omega is based, said John 
M. R. Bull, a spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. 
“This is a very deep harvest cut that’s being made in the absence of 
clear scientific understanding,” said Mr. Bull, who added that he hoped 
future stock assessments would vindicate his home state.

And it will hobble the industry beyond those shores, said Robert 
Isaacson, a third-generation fisherman who, along with his brothers 
David and Richard, uses purse-seine nets to fish for menhaden off the 
coast of New Jersey.

“It’s going to be less repairs on the boat, less buying new equipment. 
We’re going to have to work harder on nasty days, put our lives in 
danger,” Mr. Isaacson said.

But many other fishermen at the meeting were heartened by the cuts.

“It is absolutely crumbling, what’s happening to the fish,” said Chuck 
Howard, a longtime striped-bass fisherman from Rockville, Md. “Anybody 
who thinks it’s a better use to grind them up and send them to China, 
rather than have them swimming in the Chesapeake Bay and filtering our 
water, has to explain to me why that’s a good idea.”

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