Hearings set on Atlantic menhaden catch limits

Marylanders will get a chance to make their views known at a pair of upcoming hearings on whether fishing for Atlantic menhaden ought to be curtailed to protect "the most important fish in the sea," as some have dubbed it.

Hearings are scheduled from Oct. 16 through Nov. 1 from Maine to North Carolina on whether to cut commercial harvest of menhaden, and if so by how much.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is weighing reductions of up to 50 percent, although doing nothing is also an option.

Though too oily to be good dinner fare, menhaden are widely harvested commercially, with three-fourths of them caught by Omega Protein Corp., a Texas-based company that processes them into animal feed and diet supplements at a plant in Reedville, Va. Others are caught for use as bait by crabbers and fishermen.

But menhaden also serve as food for many birds and other fish, including striped bass, the Chesapeake's premier finfish. Conservationists have been warning the menhaden population is at a low, hurting the species that depend on them, while Omega has disputed the need for reductions.  The Atlantic States commission, which regulates in-shore interstate fishing, is expected to make a decision in December.

Here are the Maryland hearings:

1) Easton, Oct. 30, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Easton Armory, 7111 Ocean Gateway;

2) Chesapeake Beach, Nov. 1, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Northeast Community Center, 4075 Gordon Stinnett Drive. 

For more information on the hearings or the issue, contact Lynn Fegley at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 410-260-8285.  Or go here.

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