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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

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Marine Fisheries - Atlantic Menhaden

Marine Fisheries

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ATLANTIC MENHADEN, Brevoortia tyrannus

8-point rule

Atlantic menhaden

Life History

Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) are an estuarine-dependent species with a single stock along the Atlantic Coast that range from northern Florida to Nova Scotia. Menhaden form large nearshore schools from early spring through early winter. By summer, schools divide by size and age, with older and larger menhaden distributing farther north. During fall and early winter, menhaden migrate south to North Carolina to spawn 20 to 30 miles offshore. Sexual maturity is reached between ages 1 and 3. Floating egg masses hatch within two to three days of spawning and ocean currents carry larvae into estuarine nursery areas where they develop into juveniles and remain during their first year. Research indicates that the number of new fish that enter the fishery annually (year-class strength) is likely determined by environmental factors (currents, temperature, predation, etc.) acting on larvae as they approach and enter inlets and nursery areas. Atlantic menhaden can live up to 10 years. Atlantic menhaden strain microscopic organisms drifting or floating in the water column while swimming in schools near the surface. Atlantic menhaden are important prey to many species including striped bass, bluefish, osprey, dolphins, and whales.

Fisheries

The Atlantic menhaden fishery in North Carolina is an important bait fishery. Much of this bait is used in the blue crab pot fishery. Historically North Carolina had a significant reduction industry which harvested high volumes of menhaden and employed many people. The last plant closed in 2005. Commercial landings have fluctuated over the past ten years, ranging from a low of 397,725 pounds in 2016 to a high of 3.5 million pounds in 2011 (Figure 1). Landings averaged 1.2 million pounds from 2008 to 2017. Gill nets are the predominate gear to harvest menhaden (Figure 2). Since 2013, landings have been regulated under a state-by-state total allowable catch initiated by Amendment 2 to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Fishery Management Plan. In October 2011, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries implemented a recreational cast net and seine mail survey to develop catch and effort estimates for various species, including menhaden. Menhaden are used as live bait by recreational anglers, and from 2011 to 2017 recreational annual harvest averaged 71,701 fish harvested and 87,832 fish released (Figure 3).

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

Management

Atlantic menhaden are included in North Carolina's Interjurisdictional Fishery Management Plan. This plan defers management to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission fishery management plan compliance requirements. The original Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan was approved in 1981, with a revision in 1992 Addendum I of Amendment 1 modified the biological variables that describe the state of the fishery to evaluate its status (biological reference points), revised the stock assessment schedule, and revised the habitat section. The 2003 stock assessment used a new model with a fecundity-based (number of eggs produced during a reproductive cycle) biological reference point to determine stock status. Addendum II, established a cap on the reduction fishery (processing of whole fish into fish meal, oil and solubles) in Chesapeake Bay for 2005 to 2010. Addendum III mirrors the intent and provisions of Addendum II, but incorporated 2005 landings data and allows for the transfer of under-harvest to the following year's harvest. Addendum IV extended the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishery harvest cap, established through Addendum III, for an additional three years (2011 to 2013). Addendum V was approved in November 2011 and established new biological reference points based on the maximum number of eggs produced by an average fish at 15 percent and 30 percent of unfished stock. The goal of Addendum V was to increase abundance, spawning stock biomass (total weight of fish that contribute to reproduction), and the availability of menhaden as forage for other species. The Atlantic Menhaden Management Board approved Amendment 2 in December 2012, establishing a 170,800 metric ton (376,549,544 pounds) coastwide total allowable catch, which began in 2013. In August 2016, Addendum I modified the bycatch allowance to authorize two individuals fishing stationary gear from the same vessel to land 12,000 pounds per day. The total allowable catch for the 2015 and 2016 fishing seasons was set at 187,880 metric tons (414,204,498 pounds) per year, a 10 percent increase from the 2014 total allowable catch. In October 2016, the board approved a 200,000 metric ton (440,924,524 pounds) total allowable catch. Amendment 3 was approved in November 2017. This amendment included management measures on allocation, quota transfer, quota rollover, incidental catch, the episodic event set aside, and the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishery harvest cap. Also in November 2017, the board approved a 216,000 metric ton (476,198,486 pounds) total allowable catch. Amendment 3 redistributed total allowable catch allocations with a baseline quota of 0.5 percent to each jurisdiction with the remaining balance distributed based on historic landings from 2009 to 2011. Additionally, the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishery harvest cap was reduced from 87,216 metric ton (192,276,393 pounds) to 51,000 metric ton (112,434,600 pounds).

Stock Overview

  • Assessment: Yes
  • Terminal Year of Last Assessment: 2016
    • Overfishing: No
    • Overfished: No

The 2017 stock assessment update determined that Atlantic menhaden were neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing in 2016. The 2017 stock assessment update used historical revised reference points from 1960 to 2012 to set values of biological variables that describe the state of the fishery to evaluate its status. The rate of removals from fishing was found to have decreased throughout the history of the fishery and egg production was found to be well above levels indicative of an unhealthy stock. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission continues to work on developing ecosystem-based reference points for management use to account for the forage needs of menhaden predator species such as striped bass, weakfish, and bluefish. In North Carolina, a juvenile index of relative abundance for menhaden is obtained based on a catch per unit of effort from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Pamlico Sound Independent Gill Net Survey. This index provides an indication of relative abundance for menhaden in Pamlico Sound. The catch per unit of effort for menhaden has fluctuated during the time series for the survey and has declined in the past 5 years.

Figure 3

Research Needs

Research needs include developing a coastwide fishery-independent index of adult abundance at age, conducting a management evaluations and analysis, developing new models, and conducting more life history studies.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Stock Assessment Reports

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Contacts

For more information, Corrin Flora at Corrin.Flora@ncdenr.gov or 252-264-3911
menhaden
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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