Audubon Advisory

Protecting Fish to Save Atlantic Seabirds

One of the greatest conservation recoveries on the Atlantic coast is underway. Populations of a small fish called the Atlantic menhaden are rebounding—and so are their predators, including seabirds, marine mammals, and other fish. Because of their signifigance in the food chain, Atlantic menhaden are often referred to as "the most important fish in the sea." At-risk marine and coastal birds including Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Royal Terns, Brown Pelicans, and many others rely on this little fish.

The Atlantic menhaden recovery is a direct result of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) taking action in 2012 to combat the unregulated commercial fishing that caused years of population decline. Now, the ASMFC is considering a new fishery management plan that could further protect the food that seabirds need.  

In November 2017, the ASMFC will vote on updating the plan that manages the Atlantic Menhaden commercial fishery. Audubon strongly backs one of the possible changes, which would leave more menhaden in the ocean for seabirds, marine mammals, and other predators to account for these ecosystem needs. Option E would leave 75 percent of the menhaden population unfished and ensure the population never drops below 40 percent of current levels. This option is backed by sound science and takes into account the birds and other wildlife that rely on menhaden as prey.

Fishery managers along the Atlantic coast have never before taken into account these ecosystem needs; Option E would be an unprecedented step in forage fish management to safeguard the food source of many marine and coastal birds. Atlantic menhaden populations are still historically low, and completely gone from some of their former habitat. Keeping enough menhaden in the ocean, unfished, is important for the conservation of our Atlantic coast seabirds.

The ASMFC is accepting public comments on these changes through October 24, 2017. You can send comments through our Action Center to help birds and the food that they need. 

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