About 30 recreational and commercial fishermen, fish processors, environmental groups (like Save the Bay) and fish managers attended Monday’s public hearing on Atlantic menhaden at the URI Bay Campus held by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The two main issues at the hearing were the use of ecosystem-based management strategies to determine stock status and allowable catch limits, and landing time frames, which would be used to determine allocation of quota. 

The Atlantic menhaden plan will be the first ASMFC plan that utilizes ecosystem-based management in this fashion. 

Meghan Lapp of Seafreeze, Ltd., North Kingstown (the largest producer and trader of sea-frozen fish on the East Coast) and a member of the ASMFC Atlantic menhaden Advisory Panel, said “Historically, Rhode Island has landed a lot more fish than the allocation reflects.” George Allen, representing the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (a recreational fishing association with 7,500 members), said, “Currently one state (Virginia) takes 85 percent of the catch because of the Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery. This is inequitable for the rest of the coastal states.” 

Most in attendance agreed that the Atlantic menhaden allocation in the Northeast states, and specifically Rhode Island, should be enhanced to more accurately reflect historical catch over a longer period of time including the time period when landings were high due to active processing plants in the northern states. So instead of using average landings between 2009 and 2011, many at the meeting were advocating for a longer time-series average extending to include years prior to 2009 such as 1985 when more accurate bait fishery landings data became available. 

However, there was much disagreement in the room when it came to determining ecological reference points in estimating how many fish would be allowed to be taken out of the water. A representative from Save the Bay said, “Atlantic menhaden have great ecological value for Narragansett Bay and we advocate for existing guidelines for forage fish species until menhaden–specific ecological reference points (ERPs) are developed by the ASMFC’s Biological and Ecological Reference Point (BERP) workgroup.” 

Allen from the RI Saltwater Anglers Association said, “We believe the board should manage menhaden using whatever ERP models are available today so we support Option D which will enable the menhaden population to continue to grow while increasing menhaden’s value into the economies of all coastal states and to the predators which require them as a food source.”

 Lapp of Seafreeze said, “We have no scientific models to follow, the value of these fish as a forage fish and their ecological value has not been proven so we should continue to manage the stock with the single-species biological reference points.” 

The PID can be found on the ASMFC website at www.asmfc.ort. Public comments will be accepted in writing until 5 p.m. on Jan. 4, 2017. Comments can be sent electronically to comments@asmmfc.org (subject line: Menhaden PID). 

Why seven fish on Christmas Eve? 

OK I admit it. I thought Italians had the corner on the tradition of seven fishes on Christmas Eve. Not necessarily so. 

Czechoslovakians, Polish and Portuguese people (as well as Italians) have celebrated Christmas Eve with fish. Erin Brigham, director of the Lane Center at the University of San Francisco who has taught theology there since 2008, “A traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner boasts 12 dishes, one for each month of the year, and this feast generally starts with some kind of fish in horseradish sauce. The practice (of fish on Christmas Eve) has as much to do with proximity to good fishing as with faith and tradition.” 

In my family, the reason for “seven fish” on Christmas Eve dates back to the religious tradition in Italy of abstaining from eating meat on Christmas Eve. I have written about the tradition of the “seven fishes” during the holiday season before because all seem to be curious… why seven fish? 

Some say the seven fish tradition is for the seven days it took to make the earth, others say it pays tribute to the last seven of the Ten Commandments, which relate to human interaction, and still others say it reminds us of the seven deadly sins. However, some in Italy do not have a tradition of seven fish but rather one of 12 fish (for the twelve apostles) or a 13-fish tradition (for the 12 apostles plus one for Jesus). 

As a fisherman it’s nice to bring fish to the holiday table. Fish and fishing are such a big part of our lives and it is one of the few natural foods we can catch, clean, prepare and eat much the way people have for centuries. 

Where’s the bite? 

Cod fishing has been very good and it looks like saltwater anglers will be closing out the year with a strong cod bite that will carry over into January. 

Mike Wade, of Watch Hill Outfitters, Westerly said, “We had an outstanding cod fishing bite at Shark’s Ledge last week with anglers limiting out and catching some nice black sea bass as well.” 

Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “Quantity dominated the boat on Sunday’s trip with many limit catches while on Wednesday of last week quality dominated with many of the cod fish taken in the teens. Some decent numbers of black sea bass in the mix with some big choggie, nice size mackerel and some good size sea flounder. Tremendous amounts of bait on the grounds and both jigs and fresh shucked shell baits have been producing well.” 

– Capt. Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. . Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at dmontifish@verizon.net or visit his website at www.noflukefishing.com.