Dr. John Whitehead, professor and chair of Appalachian State University’s Department of Economics, has been awarded $95,303 by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to conduct a socioeconomic study of Atlantic menhaden commercial fisheries.
Whitehead will co-lead the project with Dr. Jane Harrison from North Carolina Sea Grant. The project is based on case studies within the industry intended to characterize the Atlantic menhaden commercial fisheries, including bait and reduction sectors and the fishing communities they support.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Atlantic menhaden constitute the largest landings by volume along the Atlantic Coast – that is, the amount of fish harvested from the sea and brought to the land. Menhaden rank second in the United States for landings behind only pollock on the west coast of Alaska.
“Menhaden stock is healthier than ever,” Whitehead said, “and the ASMFC is wrestling with how to allocate quotas across the Atlantic U.S.”
The Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery industry converts menhaden into fishmeal and fish oil, while the bait fishery industry supports other commercial and recreational fisheries.
Basically, Whitehead explained, “There is one large reduction fishery in Virginia. They melt it down to fish oil and cat food.” On the other side are commercial fisheries that sell the menhaden as bait, for example, for lobster pots in Maine, and for crab in and around Maryland. Menhaden also supports recreational fisheries growing striped bass and bluefish.
Whitehead’s case studies along the Atlantic coast will link the harvesting, processing and distribution sectors across the supply chain. Information on landing trends, industry participation and social leadership and organizations will also be analyzed. Since the grant was awarded in April, ASMFC staff have been working with the research team to identify and reach out to fishery participants.
Currently, the team is getting permissions to gather confidential data from the participants including landings, fishing terms, catch sizes and pricing.
“As economists,” Whitehead said, “we try to support management decisions about quota allocation and make it as efficient as possible. Our goal is to have resources used in the most valuable way.”