Watermen challenge menhaden catch limits

A group of Maryland watermen has filed suit seeking to overturn the state's catch limit on menhaden, arguing that it violates state and federal law and that the forage fish is not in need of conservation.

In a filing Friday in Dorchester County Circuit Court, two founding members of the Harvesters Land and Sea Coalition ask for a temporary restraining order blocking the state from enforcing catch rules on menhaden imposed this year. A spokesman for the group contends in a statement that Maryland's catch limit is unscientific and unfair, noting that 80 percent of all the menhaden allowed to be caught along the Atlantic coast would go to one company, Omega Protein in Reedville, Va.

The state Department of Natural Resources released a statement Monday saying Maryland's menhaden limits are legal, scientifically supported and required under federal law to reduce harvest pressure. Menhaden are harvested by Omega and processed for use in animal feed and health supplements. Maryland watermen catch them mainly as bait.

State fishermen netted 13 million pounds of them last year, the biggest harvest in at least six years. But the limit set for this year was 5.1 million pounds. State officials closed the fishery in late June when they figured that cap had been reached, said Lynn Fegley, deputy state fisheries director. Permitted fishermen have been allowed to keep landing a "bycatch" of up to 6,000 pounds each daily since then. But the watermen's group contends the state closed the fishery prematurely and that the bycatch allowance is too low to cover their fuel and other costs on some days.


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