This is the story of how an angler and two government bureaucrats may have saved the Atlantic Ocean.
Menhaden were once so plentiful in the Atlantic that early pioneers described them as swimming in schools twenty-five miles long or more, packing themselves into bays and estuaries where they came to feed on dense schools of phytoplankton (algae and vegetable matter). But those days are long gone.
In the 1950s, the introduction of spotter planes and hydraulic technology to the fishery resulted in blowout years: 1.5 billion pounds of menhaden were caught in 1956, largely from the Chesapeake Bay and its environs. Ten years later, the catch had declined 70 percent, to 464 million pounds.
The Menhaden are currently at record low numbers.
Alison Fairbrother is the director of the Public Trust Project. She told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program about the regulators responsible for keeping the fisheries alive. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).
In 2009, a routine methodological upgrade at NOAA—and the subsequent discovery of a few lines of faulty computer code—forced the start of a profound shift in the ASMFC’s estimates of menhaden stocks. Now, Price and his angler and environmental allies have the upper hand—at least for the moment. In response, Virginia politicians are threatening a bizarre countermove: seceding from the ASMFC, and thereby throwing the entire regulatory regime into disarray. The struggle for control of menhaden has suddenly been pulled out into the open water. How it plays out could determine the long-term ecological health of the Atlantic Ocean.
Fairbrother reports that government scrutiny is making a big difference.