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Menhaden muddle, part 5.

[This is the fifth part of a five-part series on the issue of menhaden depletion by Charles Hutchinson; here are parts one, two, three and four. For more background information, check out The Most Important Fish in the Sea. --Ed.] Given the fact that the ASMFC is the body with the power and responsibility to effectively manage menhaden, it would seem that the public at large should be able to communicate their needs to them. That is not so easy. There is very little interaction between Joe the Plumber and the people making decisions, supposedly,on their behalf. The ASMFC holds its Management meetings on, roughly, 90 day intervals. That is the only time business is conducted. These meetings are open to the public, held in various locations on the east coast, with Washington being the most frequent. Travel expenses for the commissioners, staff and other associated personnel are paid for by your tax dollars, all others are on their own. Costs may be one reason the attendance is generally low. Most of those who do attend are representatives of various fishing or environmental groups. Obviously they represent their stakeholders and thus can serve at least some segments of the public. One of the unique features of these meetings is that at the beginning of the meeting the public is requested to comment on anything not on the agenda. That gets the public out of the way so the business of business can be carried out with minimal interference. If in the course of the meeting a motion is put forward requiring a vote. the public MAY be permitted to address the subject. This doesn’t always happen, its at the discretion of the chairperson and the time is very limited. Public comment can be submitted before a meeting to the ASMFC staff. In 2005, 26,000 comments were received relative to the then proposed cap on menhaden harvest in the Chesapeake Bay, more by far than were submitted on any subject before or since. The public rejected the cap and asked for restrictions on the reduction harvest. The effect was nil. As history will show, no action was taken on restricting harvest, the cap was put in place, and the public no longer seems willing to participate significantly. How, then, can the public influence the management board? The lead commissioner from each state, generally, is the Director of Fisheries or similar position. He/she is the spokesperson for the three person team. In order for the states vote to count, a majority have to be in agreement. So perhaps a way to get something done is to bombard these individuals with requests that your state propose or support a motion to take measurable and positive action to increase the stock of menhaden by reducing the harvest. Following is a current listing of these lead commissioners. G Lapointe(ME), Doug Grout(NH), P Diodati(MA), Mark Gibson(RI), David Simpson(CT), James Gilmore(NY), Peter Himchak(NJ), P Emory(DE), Tom O’Connell(MD), Jack Travelstead(VA), Louis Daniel(NC), Spud Woodward(GA), Jessica McCauley(FL). As many letters as possible should be sent to these administrative appointees so that they are aware that people in their state know who they are and want positive action taken. Copies should go to the Secretary of Natural Resources for your state so that both know what the mood of the public is. There is at the ASMFC offices a coordinator for each Management Board. For menhaden it is Braddock Spear. His address is 1444 Eye St. NW Washington, DC 20005 His email address is Bspear@ASMFC.org. He keeps tab on how many comments are being received. For example, total comments received in regard to extending the cap beyond the 2010 expiration date was 222 (long way from 26,000) of which 186 were against extending the cap which was extended never the less. From the preceding you can see that public input has been routinely ignored. That may be because it has been directed to the more or less amorphous Management Board as a whole. Perhaps if the commentary is more directly aimed at the state representatives who are the direct beneficiaries of our taxes and are more readily reachable we may become more effective. At least its a place to start. More on an organized approach in a future article.