Understanding Atlantic Menhaden, AKA Mossbunker
Brevoortia tyrannus is one of the country’s largest fisheries going back to colonial times. The Narragansett called menhaden “munnawhatteaug” and used them to fertilize their crops. These small-schooling fish play a vital part in the hierarchy of the forage and food supply chain, completing a cycle from microalgae filtering to predation from coastal to pelagic species, including whales as well as birds. Their extensive range on the Atlantic coast is from Florida to New Brunswick.
Additionally, they are commercially and recreationally pursued by fishers to be used as bait, for their omega 3 protein (fish oil) in the reduction industry, pet/animal foods (fish meal), and in a wide range of products such as pharmaceuticals, therapeutics, cosmetics, etc.
A vital and major fishery, Atlantic menhaden was the first species to be seriously looked at by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and its Atlantic Menhaden Management Board on how best to manage such an important fish species with major impacts within a far-reaching cycle whenever there is a notable adjustment to their biomass.
Since striped bass (Marone saxatilis) is affected whenever there is either an increase or decrease in the availability of bunker and was the fish predator species that had the strongest response to scientific research discovery, this fishery was selected as a correlating factor to best illustrate that effect.
Because there exists an overall influence throughout a thriving habitat, and in order to maintain a sustainable one, it was decided to look at the entire picture through the lens of a socio-ecological lens employing ecosystem models using ecological reference points (ERPs) — a major step toward an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.
Known to be the largest estuary in the United States and a key nursery for many Atlantic coast species, ASMFC was prompted to implement the first Chesapeake Bay harvest cap for the reduction industry in 2006. In 2012, Amendment 2 established the first Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limit for menhaden.
One of the highest priorities, Amendment 3, which maintained single-species biological reference points, now specified the development and adoption of menhaden-specific ERPs with new commercial quotas, gear types, and jurisdictions while reducing the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishery cap. The goal was to achieve maximum sustainable harvest for the fishery whereas prior, there were no standardized goals for ecosystem approaches, such as water quality, habitat stabilization, supporting marine mammal populations, etc.
This eventually led to the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) that ultimately led to a two-prong approach utilizing the Northwest Atlantic Coastal Shelf-Model of Intermediate Complexity for Ecosystems (NWACS-MICE) and the Beaufort Assessment Model (BAM). The former is an excellent model offering long-term advice about trade-offs between Atlantic menhaden and predator biomass for setting reference points. The latter is better suited to provide single-species short-term tactical advice about harvest strategies and catch-at-age data to derive estimates of population size and fishing mortality to achieve reference points.
MWACS-MICE explores both impacts of predators on menhaden biomass, and the effects of menhaden harvest on predator populations using stock assessments, fishery-independent surveys, and studies of predator diets and feeding behavior to model how species interact in the ecosystem. It projects how populations will respond to different levels of fishing mortality on predators and prey over the long term.
As one can see, peering into a whole ecosystem and the interaction of everything connected is a holistic approach to an improved and potentially better way of management. Breaking it down even further, managing a single species utilizing short and long-term models during stock assessments to achieve ERPs is key to effective ecosystem fisheries management.
On The Water
Winter Storm Sage affected small Connecticut throughout the state, including central and all of its four corners, in an extreme way. This late winter surprise brought snow, sleet, rain, some low coastal flooding, or hardly a covering, coupled with stiff gusty winds. It brought everything from over 18 inches of snow to barely a light to no covering, which amply described the immediate Madison/Guilford coastline.
Long Island Sound saw winds in excess of 50 knot winds, water temperatures of 51 degrees, and angry seas to 5 feet. High winds continued until high pressure built before pushing off the coast. Another frontal system moved through the area, followed by another high that brought air temperatures into the 50s, welcoming St. Patrick’s Day and the spring equinox that fell on March 20.
As spring finally rolled in and temperatures moderated, anglers ramped up their fishing in keeping with additional trout stockings. Inland water levels and flows varied with the rivers and streams. Some were high and fast, while others were not affected as much following the rainfall.
Rainbow, brown, brook, and tiger trout took live and scented baits, spinners, swimmers, nymphs, streamers, and occasionally dry flies. Remember, from March 1 until 6 a.m. on the second Saturday of April; it is catch-and-release only. Also, on the tidal waters and tributaries, the daily limit is two trout at a 15-inch minimum length, while trout management lakes are open through the second Saturday of April to a daily limit of 1 trout at 16 inches or better.
Due to the lack of ice and rather mild weather, lakes and ponds continue to experience open water. Catches of largemouth bass, black crappie, pickerel, perch, and other panfish have been feeding. Some of the key tidal rivers have been seeing signs of sea runs, while there has been variable striped bass activity from the upper reaches to the lower stretches closer to the Sound. Meanwhile, clammers should keep an eye on the low tides around the spring equinox.
Fly fishing: an outstanding opportunity for the experienced or beginner. Booking inland and marine fly fishing lessons for 2023 with world fisher, certified master fly fishing casting instructor and fishing lodge director. From trout, salmon, steelhead, and sea-run browns to striped bass, bonefish, permit, tarpon, etc., techniques learned and honed will improve your fishing.
Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and International fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.
For all things fishy, including the latest gear, ice fishing, flies/fly fishing, rods/reels, clam/crabbing supplies, fishing trips, licenses/permits, and much more, swing by the shop (203-245-8665), open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter and Authorized Penn Premium Dealer, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.