Big News for One of the Most Important Little Fish in the Sea

School of Menhaden
Menhaden school

Found in nearshore waters from Florida up to Nova Scotia, Atlantic menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus are small, schooling fish related to herring, shad, and sardines. Arguably one of the most important fish in the sea, menhaden play a critical role in the ecosystem as prey for many prized sportfish, seabirds and whales. They also support one of the most important commercial fisheries along the Atlantic coast and are harvested for fish meal, oil, and bait for other fisheries. In fact, menhaden constitute the largest landings by volume along the Atlantic coast.


The fishery is overseen by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board which tracks and regulates menhaden harvest under Amendment 2 to the Interstate Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden. A few years ago, after a stock assessment which revealed that menhaden had been overfished for 32 years and reached record-low population levels, the Board instituted a coast-wide, total allowable catch (TAC) and allocates a specific catch limit to each state, so states are required to close their fisheries when they reach their specific catch allowance. Since the quota was put in place, menhaden populations have been said to be steadily rebounding. Then in May 2015, in response to a new assessment which confirmed the rumors of population improvement, the Board increased the TAC to 187,880 metric tons per year for 2015 & 2016- a 10% increase from the 2014 TAC.

Last week at the 75th Annual Meeting of the ASMFC in Bar Harbor, Maine, many coastal fisheries were discussed including two big decisions for Atlantic menhaden. The first was whether or not to increase the TAC, and the second was whether or not to approve a public information document (PID) for Draft Amendment 3 which would develop ecological based reference points to reflect Atlantic menhaden’s role as a forage species (science-based numbers to help determine how many menhaden must be left in the ocean to fulfill its functions in the food web).

State by State Catch Quotas
Quotas may be adjusted pending final 2016 landings. Total landings after 1% set-aside for episodic events.
Tarpon and Menhaden
Tarpon and Menhaden


The Menhaden Management Board ultimately voted for a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 200,000 metric tons- a 6.45% quota increase from the 2016 TAC. According to the ASMFC, the Board’s decision was in response to the positive benchmark assessment which indicates that menhaden are not currently overfished or experiencing overfishing relative to the current biological reference points. The Board also approved the PID, the first step in the process for Draft Amendment 3. The approved PID contains a variety of options for setting ecological reference points and all stakeholder groups can now weigh in on the management of this important resource until January 4, 2017. All public comments can be sent to [email protected] with the subject line reading: Menhaden PID.

In the end, moving towards management that will keep more of these little fish in the water for marine predators will benefit recreational and commercial anglers alike.