Major Policy Achievement: A Big Win for a Little Fish

On August 5, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted unanimously to adopt the use of Ecological Reference Points for managing menhaden, locally known as bunker. These prey fish are food for a multitude of fish, marine mammals, and seabirds.


Instead of simply setting quotas based on the status of the menhaden population alone, new harvest rules will now take into account other species whose diets depend on it. This is a big step forward for fisheries management, and IOCS is proud to have contributed to the science leading to this landmark decision. IOCS has worked on the science and management of forage fish since 2008, when the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Forceconvened.


Dr. Ellen Pikitch chaired the Task Force, which involved several SoMAS students and staff, including Christine Santora, Project Director. The Task Force issued a groundbreaking report, "Little Fish, Big Impact," which outlined science-based recommendations for managing forage fish worldwide.



Ellen spearheaded a scientist's letter in 2017, urging the ASMFC to adopt ecosystem-based options for menhaden at the time; however, the Commission deemed that the options were not species-specific enough. After three additional years of scientific work by an expert working group working within the ASMFC, the Commission voted to move ahead with using ecosystem-based harvest rules, a milestone and model for future fishery management decisions.