Omega Protein Supports ASMFC Decision to Review New Science on Forage Fish

HOUSTON – May 10, 2017 – Omega Protein applauds the decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to review a landmark new study on forage fish, which finds that predators are largely unaffected by forage fish abundance. Its findings challenge previous recommendations by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force to dramatically cut forage fish catch rates. The ASMFC charged its Biological Ecological Reference Points (BERP) Workgroup with reviewing the new science at yesterday’s ASMFC Spring Meeting in Alexandria, Virginia.

“When Does Fishing Forage Species Affect Their Predators?,” written by Dr. Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington and six other fisheries scientists and published in the peer-reviewed journal Fisheries Research in April, found no link between greater forage fish abundance and increased predator populations. It also showed that predators generally target small forage fish that are not targeted by commercial fishing, and that where forage fish are located is more important to predators than how many there are. Based on its findings, the research team recommended managing forage fisheries on a case-by-case basis.

“It has long been our view that there is not one, all-encompassing approach to managing forage fish, and that management decisions should be made according to the needs of each fishery,” said Ben Landry, Omega Protein Director of Public Affairs. “This excellent new paper by experts from around the world confirms our long-standing position, and discredits those advocating for a less nuanced approach.”

In addition to Dr. Hilborn, the team of world-renowned researchers was comprised of Dr. Ricardo O. Amoroso and Dr. Eugenia Bogazzi of the University of Washington; Dr. Olaf P. Jensen of Rutgers University; Dr. Ana M. Parma of the Center for the Study of Marine Systems – CONICET, Argentina; Dr. Cody Szuwalski of the University of California Santa Barbara; and Dr. Carl J. Walters of the University of British Columbia.

The recommendation from Dr. Hilborn’s team contradicts the widely publicized advice of the 2012 Lenfest task force to cut forage fish catch rates across the board by up to 80 percent. Subsequent studies, including a 2014 study by members of the original task force, acknowledge that the models used in the Lenfest study were flawed. The new research corroborates this finding by showing that the Lenfest team largely ignored the natural variability of forage fish, which plays a key role in forage fish abundance from year to year.

The ASMFC previously gave extensive consideration to the Lenfest study, despite its flaws. In 2015, the Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board tasked the BERP Workgroup with developing ecological reference points for menhaden using the Lenfest study. While the BERP Workgroup ultimately decided that the Lenfest-recommended actions were not appropriate for menhaden, Omega Protein is pleased the ASMFC is giving the new research from Dr. Hilborn’s team the same level of consideration it gave the Lenfest study.

The Commission’s menhaden board will next meet at the ASMFC Summer Meeting in Alexandria on August 3, where it is expected to hear the BERP Workgroup’s conclusions on the new research.