The battle between the fishing industry and conservationists over the depletion of marine life is nothing new, but historian H. Bruce Franklin says things are different this time.
Mr. Franklin says the overfishing of menhaden by industrial and commercial fishermen along U.S. coasts is depleting the species, having devastating effects on coastal ecosystems, especially Chesapeake Bay.
Some researchers deny that the species is headed toward extinction and say the controversy is resulting in major changes in the way fisheries are studied.
Because of their high oil content, they often are reduced in factories to fish oil, fish meal and bait. Products of the reductions also include livestock and pet food, water-resistant paint and cosmetics.
Besides reeling in high profits, menhaden are vital to keeping many ecosystems healthy and clean by eating toxic algae and providing an important food source for bigger fish.
The depletion of once-healthy ecosystems and the loss of menhaden can be attributed to one company, Omega Protein, said Mr. Franklin, author of a book about menhaden, “The Most Important Fish in the Sea.”
Omega Protein, based in Houston, reduces menhaden into animal feed, fertilizer and oil, and is “used in everything from linoleum to health-food supplements,” he said.
At one time, Mr. Franklin said, 100 companies were engaged in the reduction industry but most have “fished themselves into extinction.”
“Omega Protein is very committed to maintaining a stable menhaden population. That’s where our product comes from, and we follow the best available government regulations,” Mr. Landry said. “The key contention of the book is that menhaden is being overfished, but all government scientists will repeatedly contend that menhaden are not overfished.”
Joseph Smith, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, said, “Based on the most recent coastal stock assessment that was done on Atlantic menhaden in 2006 with data through 2005, the bottom line is menhaden are not overfished.”
Mr. Smith works in a North Carolina lab that studies menhaden along the coast. The lab provides data for and writes the stock assessment reports produced by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the official body appointed by Congress in the 1940s to study and protect menhaden and 21 other species of Atlantic fish.
Bill Goldsborough, director of the fisheries program at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said a lot of the menhaden caught by fishermen come from the Bay, making it a good place to study the species.View Entire Story
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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