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Abundant Fish Return to NY Waters

Large schools of menhaden bring larger fish, dolphins and whales to New York waters. (Brian.gratwicke/Wikimedia Commons)
Large schools of menhaden bring larger fish, dolphins and whales to New York waters. (Brian.gratwicke/Wikimedia Commons)
December 12, 2016

NEW YORK – The return of huge schools of forage fish to waters off Long Island is paying off for New York in a lot of ways.

For larger fish and marine mammals, menhaden – also known as bunker fish – are food. They once crowded coastal waters all the way to Maine, but their numbers had sharply declined.

Commercial fishing for menhaden was practically unregulated until 2012, when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved a 20 percent cut from previous fishing levels.

Carl Lobue, a senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy, says now the menhaden have returned, and they’ve brought the larger fish back with them.

"Some of our fishing trips around New York City and Montauk Point feel like you're in a National Geographic special this last summer, with big fish and birds, and whales and dolphins chasing schools of menhaden,” Lobue relates. “It's really been quite remarkable."

The Fisheries Commission is now holding public hearings on a draft amendment to the management plan for menhaden, including a hearing at the Freeport Memorial Library this Thursday.

According to Lobue, the management plan needs to consider not only how to maintain adequate numbers of menhaden for commercial purposes, but also as an important part of the marine food chain.

"What many scientists have proposed is kind of a commonsense approach here, and that calls for leaving about 75 percent of these little fish in the water for other things to eat,” he states.

Later this winter, the Commission will draft a final proposal that will be subject to a second round of public comments.

But LoBue stresses that giving input early in the process can have a major impact on what the final proposal will be, and what species will be in New York waters in the future.

"Striped bass, weakfish, blue fish, tuna, whales, dolphins, ospreys, seabirds – all eat menhaden for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he explains. “So, if we want them to come and stay and be happy, we need to manage the menhaden accordingly."

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY