During Lynwood Lewis’ town hall meeting in Cape Charles, he noted that the General Assembly would once again be discussing the plight of Atlantic Menhaden in the Bay, and that there appeared to be some momentum behind moving regulation away from the General Assembly and over to the VMRC. Despite the hopeful tone, for many Rec fishermen, they will believe it when they see it. Many believe problem with Menhaden stems from as systemic culture of corruption, not just in Virginia, but also at the Federal level, all the way to the Atlantic States Fisheries Management Council, and until that is addressed, not much is going to change. It is the belief of many that the subsequent discovery of a few lines of faulty computer code—which eventually forced the start of a shift in the way ASMFC’s estimates menhaden stocks, exposed a willful attempt to overfish the stock.
Back in 2009, the Menhaden Technical Committee estimated number of eggs produced by spawning female menhaden was at the target level, so according to the reference point, menhaden were not overfished. At about the same time, one of Maryland’s representatives on the Technical Committee obtained the code for the computer model, and during the review, discovered a severe miscalculation in the model – the error effectively double-counted some menhaden data. Another biologist, Jim Uphoff also reviewed the code and found that NOAA had both underestimated the amount of fish landed by the reduction industry, while at the same time overestimating menhaden spawning potential. Even using the lax reference points developed by the ASMFC, menhaden had been subject to overfishing in thirty-two of the past fifty-four years.
Yet, there were still more problems. The model did not calculate how many menhaden were being killed by bluefish, stripers, and other predators—that left regulators setting up a platform which allowed for a much larger harvest for commercial fishermen while assuming the process was still sustainable. When industrial fisherman referred to leaving enough menhaden in the water to produce 18.4 trillion menhaden eggs annually, this only referenced the faulty ASMFC standard. This faulty assumption, that maintaining 8% of the menhaden population’s “maximum spawning potential” was enough to sustain the stock, has led to massive overfishing, leaving the population dangerously close to collapse. According to biologists, this criteria is excessively low, lower than some invertebrates are managed. Why Menhaden have been unable to rebound to 1980s levels, not to mention records from the 1880s, now seems obvious.
The Mirror recently received this note from a reader in New York: “The code errors discovered by A. Sharov may have been placed into the model purposefully by a NMFS employee. This small ” adjustment ” in the code allowed the fish stock to be reduced to less than 1% of its unfished biomass and amounted to an illegal ( Magnuson -Stevens Act violations) profit for the industrial fishery of upwards of $ 100 million over the course of the ” altered ” Beaufort Assessment Models employment on menhaden. No investigations….by anybody or any agency , nobody named as having written and installed those errors etc etc. . No resignations? No peer reviewer smelling a rat, no ASMFC employee detecting a collapsing stock using the BAM model for over twenty years … this highly accurate scientific model , which should have showed the collapse in progress showed nothing? Something is rotten in Beaufort , NC. Which former or current employees of NMFS are taking money from the corporation ? Our small cetacean populations in the waters surrounding NY have been ” starved out ” of our waters by this fraud. Our fisheries are being destroyed by this . Great article … Do another article on the ” adjusted code” and NMFS employees ….former and current affecting input data into model ?”
The cynicism derives in part from the commission’s one previous attempt to protect the menhaden. In 2005, responding to public protest, it set a limit on the menhaden catch in the Chesapeake Bay. But the limit was so high as to be “imaginary,” according to one ASMFC commissioner. “They would have had to significantly increase their fishing to reach the cap.” Even so, both the company and Virginia state officials vehemently resisted. Omega Protein’s lawyers drafted a legal brief, and Virginia’s then-attorney general, Bob McDonnell, used it to argue that Virginia could ignore the ASMFC cap. The eventual compromise was “a farce,” said Jim Price. “It’s now eight years without a single fish being saved.”
In 2016, not much has changed; Omega boats still seem to have free reign over our tidal waters to do just as they please. The menhaden discussion in the General Assembly, one again is anticipated to be contentious, yet not much is expected to happen. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We’ll see.