ELLSWORTH — A move by regulators to protect an oily little fish that no one eats but ultimately feeds millions of people could be bad news for Maine’s lobster industry.
Last week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved a 37 percent reduction in landings of menhaden. The cut won’t become effective before the fishing year that begins in May 2013.
Last year, menhaden landings totaled nearly 224,000 metric tons. Of that, about 183,000 metric tons was caught to be ground up and processed into fish meal and fish oil. The fish meal is a primary ingredient of feeds used worldwide in the livestock and aquaculture industries. Since 2005, the Virginia-based Omega Protein Corp. has been the sole participant in this so-called “reduction” fishery.
In 2010, an additional 44,000 metric tons of menhaden was harvested for use as bait. Some of that bait is used by recreational fishermen pursuing game fish such as striped bass, but the bulk of those landings are used as bait in the crab and lobster fisheries.